Diarrhea is a digestive problem that causes loose, watery bowel movements. It can be uncomfortable for a few hours or days, after which the symptoms should improve. In some instances, they last longer.
While diarrhea often goes away on its own, several home remedies can ease symptoms and speed up recovery.
Diarrhea causes a deficit of fluids, making it vital to rehydrate.
Hydrating the body is essential to recovering from diarrhea.
Diarrhea causes a deficit of fluids, including water. This causes the body to lose electrolytes such as sodium and chloride.
To support recovery, it is vital to restore fluids. Otherwise, a person may become dehydrated.
Dehydration can be dangerous in children and older adults, so it is crucial to encourage them to drink water if they are experiencing diarrhea.
Drinking water is the first step to rehydrating. A person can also to create an oral rehydration solution by mixing 1 liter of water with half a teaspoon of salt and 6 teaspoons of sugar.
Consuming sugar and salt with water helps the intestines to absorb fluids more efficiently. This solution more effectively rehydrates the body after a bout of diarrhea than water alone.
Other drinks can also be beneficial. For example, drinking sports drinks can help rehydrate the body and restore potassium and sodium. Fruit juices can also help restore potassium.
Avoid drinking anything that will further irritate the digestive tract, such as:
- caffeinated drinks
- carbonated beverages
- very hot drinks
2. Eating a recovery diet
A diet of small, frequent meals can be better than eating three larger meals a day when recovering from diarrhea. A good diet for someone with diarrhea may involve:
- foods rich in pectin, such as fruit
- foods high in potassium, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes
- foods with electrolytes, such as miso soup and sports drinks
- cooked, soft vegetables
- adequate amounts of protein
Some people find that having a liquid diet for the first 24 hours of diarrhea helps settle the digestive system. This may include salty broths, bland soups, and drinks.
Adopting this diet for the first 24 hours may prevent the bowels from working too hard.
Another option for people with diarrhea is the BRAT diet. This consists of:
- Apple sauce
This diet combines bland foods that are low in fiber and high in starch, which may help produce more solid bowel movements. It also contains helpful nutrients, such as potassium and pectin.
It is essential to note that the BRAT diet is highly restrictive and does not provide balanced nutrition. People should only follow this diet until they are feeling better and not any longer than 2 days.
3. Avoiding certain foods
A person with diarrhea should avoid eating greasy foods.
It can help to avoid foods that could irritate or put pressure on the gastrointestinal tract, such as:
- high-fat foods
- greasy foods
- spicy foods
- foods containing artificial sweeteners
- foods with high levels of fructose
Some doctors recommend avoiding dairy products, as they may worsen diarrhea in some people. While general evidence for this claim is limited, people with lactose intolerance should avoid these products.
4. Taking probiotics
Probiotics are microorganisms that can benefit the digestive system. They can support the workings of the gut and help fight off infection.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts in some yogurts and other fermented foods. People can also buy probiotic supplements in health stores or online.
In 2010, researchers conducted a large systematic review of 63 studies on probiotics, with over 8,000 participants.
They found that probiotics significantly shortened the duration of recovery from diarrhea. They also found probiotics to be safe, without any major side effects.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate probiotic supplements, so be sure to purchase them from a reputable source and ask a doctor or pharmacist if in doubt.
5. Trying medicines
Over-the-counter drugs, such as Imodium, can help reduce symptoms and speed up recovery time.
Several over-the-counter medications are available for treating diarrhea.
Antimotility drugs can help reduce symptoms and speed up recovery time. A common example of this type of drug is loperamide (Imodium).
However, these medications are not always appropriate. People with bloody bowel movements or a fever should refrain from taking antimotility drugs and speak to a doctor instead.
When to see a doctor
In most cases, it is possible to treat diarrhea at home without consulting a doctor. However, if diarrhea lasts for more than 2 days, seek medical advice to avoid complications.
Other reasons to see a doctor for diarrhea include:
- blood or pus in bowel movements
- a fever
- signs of dehydration, such as extreme thirst and dry mouth
- chronic diarrhea
- diarrhea during sleep
- significant weight loss
- severe abdominal pain
People at risk of complications, such as young children and older adults, should also see a doctor for treatment if diarrhea does not improve with time and home remedies.