Diarrhea is a common issue caused by many different things and can affect anyone. When the contents of your bowel move through your intestines too fast, the water in your stool is left unabsorbed. Though it often comes and goes within a couple of days, some patients can have frequent episodes.
Fortunately, you can reduce your symptoms of diarrhea with low-cost, over-the-counter medications. Continue reading to learn if anti-diarrhea medications are right for you.
Diarrhea is often viral and usually resolves quickly without medication. Bacteria, such as E. coli, can be another cause. You can help prevent diarrhea by managing your diet and managing conditions that can cause diarrhea. You should avoid fried and fatty foods and eat more foods high in fiber, such as broccoli and whole grains. If traveling to developing countries, be sure to drink clean water. If you have a dairy allergy (lactose intolerant), this could be another reason why you may be having diarrhea often.
Medications are also a common cause of diarrhea. These medications have a higher incidence of causing diarrhea:
- Heartburn medications
- High blood pressure medications
Even if you use medications to help treat diarrhea, it is important that you also replace the water and electrolytes in your body to prevent dehydration. Oral rehydration solution (ORS) is the best method to replace both. Pedialyte is an example of ORS, and you can find it in most pharmacies or grocery stores. Water is also a good solution.
The most common medications to treat diarrhea over-the-counter are bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) and loperamide (Imodium). Both are available in pill and liquid form.
Pepto-Bismol can be used for diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, and preventing traveler’s diarrhea. If you have an allergy to aspirin or ibuprofen, kidney problems, or taking blood thinners, talk with your pharmacist or doctor before using this medication. Please avoid using this medication in children younger than 12 years old, as it may cause a condition known as Reye's syndrome. A side effect that you may experience when taking Pepto-Bismol is a black tongue or black stool. It is okay and still safe to take if this happens. However, if you experience ringing in your ears, you should stop taking the medication and contact your doctor, as this may indicate toxicity. Do not take Pepto-Bismol longer than 2 days without a doctor's approval.
Imodium is a medication that slows down the movement of your bowels through your intestines, allowing more water to be absorbed. You may experience mild side effects that include dizziness, constipation, or stomach cramping. This medication should not be used in children younger than 2 years old. Contact your doctor if you have diarrhea that lasts longer than 2 days when using Imodium.
When to see a doctor
Do not use over-the-counter medications longer than 2 days to treat diarrhea without contacting your doctor. Other reasons you may need to see your doctor before taking these medications for diarrhea include:
- Children younger than 6 months old
- High fever (>101°F)
- Blood or mucus in stool
- Severe dehydration
- Severe stomach pain
- Risk of complications due to other medical conditions
If you have chronic or frequent diarrhea, speak with your doctor to see if you may have any underlying conditions causing it. For frequent diarrhea, your doctor may be able to prescribe you medications such as Lomotil, Bentyl, or Viberzi. These may help if over-the-counter options do not relieve your symptoms.