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Diarrhea (cont.)

Medical Treatment for Diarrhea

To replace fluids, the health-care professional will often start an IV line if the patient is dehydrated and cannot eat or drink. Solutions administered through IV replace the lost fluids and electrolytes, and often brings quick relief to the patient.


Antibiotics will get rid of diarrhea caused by viruses. Even the more severe diarrhea caused by bacteria will usually go away in a few days without antibiotics. Antibiotics appear to make some bacterial diarrhea worse, specifically those caused by the E coli bacterium (often a source of food poisoning).

In some cases, antibiotics may benefit some adults with diarrhea. If selected carefully, antibiotics may decrease the severity of illness and shorten the duration of symptoms. If a person has recently traveled to another country or has been camping (and may have been exposed to contaminated water in the wilderness), a health-care professional may prescribe specific medication used to treat traveler's diarrhea for certain intestinal parasites.

Over-the-counter (OTC) antidiarrheal medications

The health-care professional may recommend using over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications. These drugs, such as loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, etc.) may help some individuals with diarrhea, but should be avoided by others. Antidiarrheal medications are not usually recommended for infants and children with diarrhea.


If a person has severe diarrhea, especially accompanied with dehydration, he or she may require hospitalization to receive IV fluids and to be observed.

Diarrhea Medications

The use of anti-motility medications, although controversial, may help get rid of diarrhea. These drugs slow down the intestinal movement and stop diarrhea symptoms. These medications include loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, etc).

  • Such medications are not recommended for infants and children younger than 5 years of age.
  • In otherwise healthy adults who are not severely ill with diarrhea, loperamide is probably safe and is effective in decreasing the number of stools per day and the total duration of the diarrhea.
  • Bismuth subsalicylate is also useful and may be more effective than loperamide when vomiting accompanies the diarrhea.
  • Adults with other serious medical problems and those with severe diarrhea (high fever, abdominal pain, or bloody stool) should see a health-care professional before using either medication.

Electrolyte solutions are available to prevent salt deficiency.

  • Oral electrolyte solutions are available at grocery and drug stores (Pedialyte, Rehydralyte, Naturalyte Solution).
  • Follow label directions, which may specify 1 teaspoonful every 15 minutes. If the child retains the initial doses, increase the dose to 1 tablespoonful every 15 minutes until the diarrhea stops.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/5/2015
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Diarrhea »

Acute diarrhea is defined as the abrupt onset of abnormally high fluid content in the stool (more than the normal value of approximately 10 mL/kg/d).

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