How to Stop Diarrhea: Here’s What You Can Do to Treat and Prevent Outbreaks

This common digestive disorder can have many causes. How to stop diarrhea? Treatment and recovery is often easy and fast.

how to stop diarrhea

Diarrhea symptoms usually come and go, but some of them symptoms—and their frequency—may prompt you to rule out a more serious ailment (see section titled "Serious Warning Signs").

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Everyone experiences diarrhea symptoms at some time. They can be due to something you ate or drank, or can result as a common side effect from such conditions as the flu or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But before we answer the question of how to stop diarrhea, let’s further explore the possible causes.

Diarrhea makes your bowel movements (stools) loose and watery. Although it is uncomfortable and embarrassing, diarrhea is often not that serious and typically lasts one to two days.

What Are the Causes of Diarrhea?

A virus that infects the gut often results in diarrhea. Other causes include:

  • Food allergies
  • Diseases of the intestines; for example, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Food poisoning
  • Problem absorbing certain nutrients.

Diarrhea also can be the result of radiation therapy from cancer, an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), diabetes, or even certain medications.

Diarrhea symptoms tend to vary in terms of severity and frequency. However, most episodes have these characteristics:

  • An urgent feeling that you need to have a bowel movement
  • Thin, loose, and/or watery stools
  • Cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloating

Can Probiotics Help?

Probiotic supplements may or may not be therapeutic, thus it is best to confer with your primary healthcare provider before taking them.

Pasteurized yogurt, kefir and other whole fermented foods and beverages containing live cultures could help recovery, while also providing a beneficial array of essential nutrients.

Serious Warning Signs

While your diarrhea may be linked to another ailment, you should seek immediate care if you have any of these more serious symptoms:

  • Blood in your diarrhea
  • Black stools
  • Dark urine
  • A fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, or one that lasts more than 24 hours
  • Diarrhea that lasts longer than two days
  • Nausea or vomiting that keeps you from drinking sufficient liquids
  • Stomach or rectum pain
  • Weight loss
  • Fast heart rate
  • Irritable or confused feeling

How to Stop Diarrhea: Remedies

Treatments are often unnecessary if you have a mild case of diarrhea. However, over-the-counter medicine, such as bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) or loperamide (Imodium) can help to ease the symptoms.

If you experience regular itching or soreness in the rectal area, taking a warm bath and/or applying a hemorrhoid cream can offer some relief.

If you have watery stools more than three times a day, and you do not drink enough fluids, you could become dehydrated. Try to drink at least six glasses of water or other beverages like tea, juice, or coconut water each day.

Want some additional tips for how to stop diarrhea? Click here.


Dr. Orli Etingin, MD, editor-in-chief of Women’s Nutrition Connection, answers a common question about how to stop diarrhea.

Q. Can you give me any information about what stops diarrhea, especially when you don’t know what is causing it? Are there any sure-fire cures?

A. As you suggest, what stops diarrhea often depends on what’s causing the problem. A variety of medications, including antibiotics, certain cancer drugs, and antacids with magnesium, are common culprits. If you’re able to stop taking these medications or switch to different kinds, your digestive troubles may disappear. Of course, if a bacterial infection is causing diarrhea, antibiotics may be necessary to eliminate the infection.

For many people, what stops diarrhea is time; the problem tends to resolve itself within a few days. A mild case of food poisoning may cause symptoms for a day or so. The problem may last a little longer with a bout of stomach virus.

The main concern with ongoing diarrhea is the possibility of dehydration, since the body is ridding itself of large amounts of fluid. Dehydration is especially dangerous in children and frail, elderly people. To prevent dehydration, fluids that contain sugar and salt, such as Pedialyte and Gatorade, are recommended.

One time-tested strategy that may help get your system back to normal is the BRAT diet. It’s one moms have been using with their kids for generations, but it can work at any age. BRAT stands for bananas, rice (white), applesauce, and toast. These low-fiber foods will help make your stools firmer. Oatmeal, baked chicken (no skin), and baked or boiled potatoes are also helpful.

Two over-the-counter medications that can stop diarrhea are loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol).

One key to preventing diarrhea is to avoid potential causes. Dairy products are troublesome for those who are lactose intolerant. For some people, artificial sweeteners or certain food additives can cause diarrhea. The next time you experience this problem, think back to what you have had to eat or drink in the past 24 hours and look for any possible triggers. If you frequently experience diarrhea, report it to your doctor so he or she can evaluate possible underlying conditions, such as a gastrointestinal disorder.

Originally published May 2016 and updated.

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Matthew Solan

Matthew Solan has served as executive editor of Harvard Men's Health Watch since 2016. He was previously executive editor for UCLA Health's Healthy Years and was a regular contributor to … Read More

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