Diarrhea is one of the most common ailments across all age groups. Most people have experienced diarrhea, which is characterized by frequent bowel movements that are loose or watery. People may also experience fever, cramps, nausea, or vomiting. Many cases of diarrhea are not serious and will clear themselves up within a few days. You can treat many cases of diarrhea in adults and older children at home by staying hydrated and taking some at-home remedies.
Do not treat diarrhea with home remedies for infants and children under 2 years of age. Call your pediatrician and follow his or her recommendations. Do not give young children any anti-diarrhea medication without consulting your pediatrician first.
Checking Your Symptoms
1Learn what causes diarrhea. Most cases of diarrhea are caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Diarrhea may also be triggered by reactions to medication, including herbal treatments. Food sensitivities, such as sensitivity to sorbitol and mannitol, may cause diarrhea. Lactose-intolerant individuals may get diarrhea when they consume dairy products.
- Certain intestinal disorders, such as inflammatory bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, can cause diarrhea. These disorders require medical care and often prescription drugs to treat.
- Diarrhea is also a common side-effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
2Recognize the symptoms of diarrhea. Most diarrhea is “uncomplicated,” and will usually resolve on its own in a few days. The symptoms of uncomplicated diarrhea include:
- Bloating or cramping
- Thin or loose stool
- Watery stool
- Frequent or urgent-feeling bowel movements
- Mild fever
3Check for blood and/or pus in the stool. Inflammatory bowel disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and certain infections can cause blood and/or pus to be present in your waste. You should seek medical attention immediately if you see blood or pus in your stool.
- You may also experience blood or pus in your stool if you have recently taken antibiotics. Antibiotics may kill off “good” bacteria in your colon, allowing harmful bacteria to cause an infection.
4Check for a fever. Fever accompanying diarrhea may be the sign of a more serious health issue. If your fever is 102 degrees or higher, or has lasted for more than 24 hours, see your doctor right away.
5Look for black, tarry stool. Black, tarry stools may be a sign of a more serious health condition, such as pancreatitis or even colon cancer. If your stool is black and tarry, you should contact a doctor immediately.
6Recognize dehydration in children. If your child has diarrhea, s/he is probably also dehydrated. Signs of dehydration in young children include:
- Decrease in urination or dry diapers
- Lack of tears
- Dry mouth
- Listlessness or lethargy
- Sunken eyes
Drinking the Right Fluids
1Drink plenty of fluids. Diarrhea dehydrates your body. To prevent dehydration, you need to drink plenty of clear liquids. Water is important, but you should also look for beverages that contain electrolytes like sodium, chloride, and potassium. Water alone does not contain enough electrolytes to replenish your body when you’re severely dehydrated.
- Healthy adult males should consume at least 13 cups/3 liters of water per day. Healthy adult females should consume at least 9 cups/2.2 liters of water per day. You may need to drink more than this to combat dehydration while you have diarrhea.
- Water, vegetable juices (particularly celery and carrot), sports drinks, electrolyte replenishment preparations, herbal (non caffeinated) teas, flat ginger ale, and salty broth such as miso are good options for adults.
- Barley water can also be a good way to rehydrate. Use 1 cup of raw barley to 1 quart of boiling water. Allow to steep for 20 minutes. Drain and drink throughout the day.
- Children should drink oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte and Infalyte. These are balanced for childrens’ nutrient needs and are sold in most grocery and drug stores. White grape juice may also be good for children who are dehydrated due to diarrhea.
2Stay away from caffeinated and carbonated beverages. Drinks such as coffee and soda irritate the bowels and could make diarrhea worse. If you want to drink a beverage such as ginger ale, stir it or let it sit open overnight to allow the carbonation to dissipate.
- Avoid alcohol when you have diarrhea. It dehydrates the body and can worsen diarrhea symptoms.
3Try herbal teas. Peppermint, chamomile, and green tea are very effective at curbing the nausea that can often accompany diarrhea. You can use tea bags or prepare your own.
- Chamomile tea is safe for children and adults, unless they are allergic to ragweed. You should not give children any other herbs without first consulting your pediatrician.
- You can make fenugreek tea by adding a level teaspoon of fenugreek seeds per cup of hot water. Although there is not enough scientific evidence to confirm fenugreek’s effectiveness, it may help settle upset stomachs and fight nausea.
- Contact your doctor before trying other types of herbal teas. Teas made of blackberry or raspberry leaves, bilberry, or carob may help calm stomach and bowel inflammation. However, they may also interfere with medications and can cause complications with existing medical conditions. Ask your doctor before trying these herbs.
4Try ginger preparations. Ginger can help fight nausea and inflammation. You can drink flat (uncarbonated) ginger ale or ginger tea to help settle an upset stomach and ease bowel inflammation. If you drink ginger ale, make sure to find a brand that uses realginger; some ginger ales do not use enough real ginger to be effective.
- You can make your own ginger tea by boiling 12 slices of fresh ginger with 3 cups of water. Simmer and allow the tea to reduce for 20 minutes. Stir in a little honey before you drink the tea; honey may also help diarrhea symptoms.
- Ginger tea is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. However, pregnant women should not take more than 1 gram of ginger per day.
- Do not give ginger to children under 2 years of age. Children over 2 years old may benefit from small doses of ginger ale or ginger tea to treat nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea.
- Ginger can interfere with blood-thinning medications such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin), so don’t use ginger if you are taking blood thinners.
5Take small sips. If your diarrhea is caused by a “stomach bug” or accompanied by vomiting, drinking a lot of fluid all at once could make it worse. Try to take small sips regularly throughout the day to keep your stomach settled.
- You can also use ice chips or frozen popsicles to stay hydrated. These are especially good options for children, who may want to gulp fluids if they’re dehydrated.
6Continue breastfeeding your child. If your breastfeeding child has diarrhea, continue breastfeeding her or him. This will help comfort the child and keep him/her hydrated.
- Do not give an infant with diarrhea cow’s milk. This can cause gas and bloating.
Eating the Right Foods
1Get plenty of fiber. Fiber can help absorb water and firm up stools. This can slow down diarrhea. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends at least 25 grams of fiber daily for women, and 38 grams for men. Try adding sources of insolublefiber, or “roughage” to your diet while you have diarrhea.
- Brown rice, barley, and other whole grains are good sources of insoluble fiber.Cook the grains in a light chicken or miso broth to help replace lost salts.
- Foods that contain potassium and fiber include mashed or boiled potatoes and bananas.
- Cooked carrots are a good source of fiber. You can mash them if you would prefer.
2Eat salted crackers. Salty crackers are mild and can help settle an upset stomach. Some types of crackers also include fiber, which will help firm up your stool.
- If you are gluten-intolerant, try rice crackers instead of wheat crackers.
3Try the BRAT diet. The components of the BRAT diet — bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast — help bulk up your stool and provide gentle nutrition that won’t upset your stomach..
- Choose brown rice and whole grain toast. These contain more fiber and nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
- Applesauce contains pectin, which helps to firm up stool. Apple juice may actually have a laxative effect that makes your diarrhea worse.
- Avoid any solid food if you are continuing to vomit. Stick with broths and other fluids, and call your doctor.
4Avoid milk and dairy products. These can cause diarrhea in individuals with lactose intolerance. Even individuals without lactose intolerance may find it harder to digest dairy products while they have diarrhea.
5Avoid greasy, fried, or spicy foods. These can upset your stomach and worsen diarrhea. Go for bland,mild foods until you feel better.
- If you need protein, try boiled or baked chicken with the skin removed.Scrambled eggs may also work.
Using Over-the-Counter Treatments
1Try bismuth subsalicylate. Medicines that contain bismuth subsalicylate include Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate. These medicines help reduce inflammation and may help your body manage fluids better.
- They also have a mild antibacterial effect, so they are good for diarrhea that is caused by “stomach bugs” or bacterial infections, such as “traveler’s diarrhea.”
- Do not take Pepto-Bismol if you are allergic to aspirin. Do not take Pepto-Bismol with other medicines containing aspirin.
- Do not give a young child anti-diarrhea medications without consulting your pediatrician first.
2Take psyllium fiber. Psyllium fiber is a good source of soluble fiber. It may help absorb water in the intestines and firm up stools.
- Adults should take psyllium in small doses (½ to 2 teaspoons, or 2.5 to 10 grams) mixed with water. If you are not used to psyllium fiber, start with a low dose and gradually work up to a higher dose.
- Do not give young children psyllium fiber without consulting your pediatrician first. Children above the age of 6 can take very small doses (¼ teaspoon or 1.25 grams) mixed with water.
3See a doctor. If your diarrhea lasts longer than 5 days (for adults), call your physician for an appointment. If diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours (for young children), see your pediatrician as soon as possible.
- See a doctor immediately if you see blood or pus in your stool or if you have a high fever (102F or higher).
- If you have severe pain in your abdomen or rectal area, see a doctor immediately.
- If you are having trouble staying hydrated, you may experience symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness, extreme weakness, or dry mouth. If theses symptoms persist, see your doctor. Extreme dehydration can cause severe illness and even death.