If you have chronic diarrhea, you may need to make certain diet and lifestyle changes. But sometimes, you may also need diarrhea medications to help lessen its effects.
You can take either over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications for diarrhea, depending on your symptoms and overall health.
Read on to learn more about the different diarrhea medications that are available, who may not be able to take diarrhea medications, and first aid steps for severe diarrhea.
There are two types of OTC diarrhea medications available:
Loperamide (Imodium) is an antidiarrheal medication that’s made of lactose, cornstarch, talc, and magnesium stearate. It comes in 2-milligram (mg) capsules and is usually taken in a 4 mg dose after the first stool for people 12 years and older, followed by 2 mg after each subsequent loose stool, up to a total of 8 mg in a 24-hour period.
Imodium is intended for people 2 years old and older. Different formulations are available for children up to 12 years old.
Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) uses bismuth and salicylic acid to help stop the causes of diarrhea in the stomach by:
- killing infectious bacteria and other microbes
- better absorbing fluids
- reducing inflammatory responses
- healing tissues in the stomach
Don’t use this medication if you’re allergic to salicylate, which is also found in aspirin. It’s also known to interact with medications for:
Speak with a doctor before using bismuth subsalicylate to make sure you don’t experience any dangerous
You might need prescription diarrhea medications if OTC medications aren’t working or if you have severe long-term diarrhea.
Alosetron (Lotronex) is used if you have a form of irritable bowel syndrome where diarrhea is one of the main symptoms (known as IBS-D).
You may experience some side effects from using alosetron, such as constipation. It can also keep blood from flowing to the large intestine.
Eluxadoline (Viberzi) is also used to treat IBS-D by treating pain receptors in the gut. Like alosetron, eluxadoline helps reduce the activity of pain receptors that can trigger diarrhea and
- irregular bowel movements (intestinal dysmotility)
- digestion issues from a lack of secretion in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
- bowel pain and discomfort
Eluxadoline is sometimes used instead of alosetron because it has fewer side effects. But more research is needed to determine
Rifaximin (Xifaxan) is used to treat IBS-D and a condition called traveler’s diarrhea. This happens when you eat food or drink water with bacteria, viruses, or parasites that your body isn’t used to.
But it’s not effective against diarrhea caused by viral infections, so it’s important to get diagnosed properly before using this prescription-strength diarrhea medication.
Diphenoxylate/atropine (Lomotil) is typically used to treat acute or chronic diarrhea that’s been resistant to other medications. It’s a Schedule 5 controlled substance, which means it has a medical use but may be misused as it contains small quantities of narcotics.
Lomotil is not considered addictive at the doses recommended for diarrhea. However, it’s important not to take more Lomotil than your doctor prescribes.
Closely follow a medication’s label and doctor’s prescription and recommendations. Not doing so can have dangerous side effects. Some children can have side effects from certain medications and should avoid them.
You also should not take diarrhea medications if you have:
Check to see that you’re not allergic to any ingredients in an antidiarrheal medication before taking it. Get immediate medical help if you experience any of the following:
Here are some tips for managing long-term or severe diarrhea, especially if medications aren’t working well:
- Drink more water than usual to stay hydrated.
- eat a BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apples, and toast) to thicken stool
- consider getting intravenous (IV) fluids to hydrate yourself more effectively
- stop drinking caffeine or alcohol, which can trigger bowel movements and cause dehydration
- probiotics may
potentially improve outcomesin people with diarrhea, however, more research is needed to verify how effective these are in managing diarrhea
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about diarrhea medications.
Which diarrhea medications are available for adults?
Adults can take almost any diarrhea medication available as long as they aren’t allergic or a doctor recommends not taking it due to side effects. These include OTC loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate, and prescription alosetron, eluxadoline, and rifaximin.
Which diarrhea medication is available for kids?
Speak with your child’s doctor before you give any diarrhea medication to children younger than 13. Try home treatments or first aid before using any medications to treat diarrhea in babies or young children. Some forms of OTC bismuth subsalicylate, such as Kaopectate, can be effective for children with diarrhea.
Diarrhea medications can be an effective treatment for long-term or severe cases of diarrhea.
Speak with a doctor before you take diarrhea medications, especially if you’ve had diarrhea for several days or longer along with symptoms like pain, vomiting, or fever.