How to Treat Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a condition that leads to frequent, loose or watery stools. Those with it don't absorb nutrients or water properly. If it lasts too long, diarrhea sufferers can get dehydrated or have electrolyte problems.

In most cases of sudden diarrhea, the right treatment is simply waiting it out. The body is almost always reacting to an infection or ingestion of something bad by ridding itself of toxins or bacteria and once it is finished, bowel movements will return to normal. When diarrhea lasts more than a couple of days or comes on frequently, it might be a bigger problem and will need to be treated by a healthcare provider.

Avoid diarrhea medications, unless the doctor tells you to take them. The function of diarrhea is to rid the body of bad bugs. Often the only way to get better is to suffer through the loose stools.

Specific causes of diarrhea have specific treatments that will work better for those. Use these general treatment steps when the cause of diarrhea isn't known or can't be treated itself.

How to treat diarrhea
Illustration by Cindy Chung, Verywell 

Avoid Dehydration

Drink lots of clear fluid -- no alcohol or caffeine. Milk will usually prolong diarrhea, but it might help provide nutrients for folks with very mild cases. For moderate to severe cases, use an electrolyte solution like Gatorade or Pedialyte.



High Angle View Of Yogurt In Disposable Cup On Table
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The active bacterial cultures in some yogurt can ease the symptoms of some types of diarrhea and shorten their duration. Researchers aren't sure exactly how these cultures help and they're also not sure which probiotic cultures are effective.

There are other foods that contain probiotics and even some pill forms on the market. However, there's a lot less data available on probiotic foods other than yogurt. The research that is available is focused almost entirely on mild cases of diarrhea--using 3 days as the cutoff. What little data is available on more severe cases suggests that probiotic yogurt can be helpful in those cases as well, at least in shortening the illness by a day.


Try the BRAT Diet

Woman texting with smart phone, toasting bread in toaster in kitchen
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The BRAT diet is bananas, rice, apples or applesauce, and dry toast. This collection of diarrhea-fighting-food is often suggested for kids, but adults can eat it, too. It's not necessary to restrict kids or adults to this diet, but like probiotic yogurt, adding these foods may help shorten episodes of diarrhea.


See a Doctor if It Gets Too Bad

Staying hydrated and eating the right foods often help, but in the end (no pun intended) you just have to get some rest and wait it out. If the episode of diarrhea gets too bad, it's time to go see a doc.

The following cases require seeking emergency treatment:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea in a newborn under 3 months (call as soon as it starts)
  • Kids older than 3 months vomiting for more than 12 hours
  • Diarrhea lasting more than 3 days
  • Bloody, black, or oily looking stools
  • Abdominal pain that doesn't get better with a bowel movement
  • Dehydration symptoms including dizziness, weakness or muscle cramps
  • Fever, along with diarrhea, of more than 101 in adults or 100.4 in kids
  • Recent travel outside the country (Traveler's Diarrhea)
  • People with whom you've eaten complaining of diarrhea
  • Diarrhea after starting a new medication
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Article Sources
  • "Travelers’ Diarrhea." 15 Feb 2008. Centers for Disease Control. CDC. 12 Mar 2008
  • "Diarrhea." 20 Feb 2008. Medline Plus. USNLM/NIH. 12 Mar 2008
  • "Diarrhea." Mar 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. NIDDK. 23 Mar 2008
  • Xiao, L., Ding, G., Ding, Y., Deng, C., Ze, X., Chen, L., … Ben, X. (2017). Effect of probiotics on digestibility and immunity in infants: A study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Medicine96(14), e5953.​