Whether you’ve got food poisoning or a viral stomach bug, it is common for almost everyone to have diarrhea up to several times a year and throughout their lives.
Unless you are in severe pain or dehydrated, most cases of diarrhea can be treated at home and will subside in a few days.
In this article, we’ll explore what diarrhea is and what causes it.
We’ll also focus on some popular home remedies that you can use to relieve any pain and quicken the recovery from diarrhea.
What is Diarrhea?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, about two billion cases of diarrhea are reported on an annual basis across the world.
Diarrhea is a condition that results in loose, watery, and more frequent stools.
Diarrhea is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as:
- Stomach pain and abdominal cramps
- Fever, aches, and chills
- Vomiting, nausea, bloating
- Blood or other discharge in the stools
- Changes in weight and appetite
- Confusion and lightheadedness
Common causes of diarrhea
- Bacteria: Bacteria such as salmonella, campylobacter, shigella, and shiga toxin are some of the most common causes of diarrhea in the United States. A bacterial infection can affect a person by drinking contaminated water while traveling or eating contaminated foods. Bacterial gastroenteritis may result in nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, abdominal pain, and fever.
- Viruses: Viral infections such as norovirus, rotavirus, influenza, astrovirus, enteric adenoviruses, viral hepatitis, and cytomegalovirus can lead to ‘stomach flu’-like symptoms including diarrhea, stomach aches, vomiting, nausea, fever, and weakness.
- Diarrheal diseases and digestive disorders: Certain ailments such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, lactose intolerance, and hiatal hernia can cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) leading to diarrhea among other symptoms.
- Allergic reactions: If you get diarrhea, stomach cramps, or other digestive symptoms when you eat a certain food or take a particular medicine, you could be allergic to it. If you have a severe reaction to something you have consumed, then visit the emergency room or call 911 immediately. You can also get diarrhea after consuming alcohol or other substances that may irritate your bowels and gut.
Home Remedies for Diarrhea
If you have a chronic illness that gives you diarrhea, you need to seek medical treatment to help you overcome it.
Mild and acute diarrhea can usually be treated at home. Here are some ways to ease your recovery at home:
The most important and effective way to recover from diarrhea is to keep your body hydrated.
You need to constantly and regularly replenish the liquids and nutrients that your body is expelling every time you pass stool.
Drink lots of water, fresh fruit juices, soda without sugar, and energy drinks that are rich in minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and dairy as you recover.
The BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) is usually recommended for children and those suffering from upset or sensitive stomachs.
These bland, low-fiber foods are known for their liquid-retention properties, nutrition, and ability to stay in your stomach and digestive system easier than others.
Ease yourself into small bites of these foods at a time and monitor how your body reacts to them. You may also find that eating ginger, lemon, and other soothing ingredients can help settle your stomach.
Probiotics are microorganisms and live bacteria that benefit the digestive system and the gut. They help fight off infection and help with the recovery from diarrhea.
Adding good bacteria into your system may help counter the negative effects of bad bacteria.
Foods that contain probiotics include pickles, sauerkraut, certain yogurts, other fermented foods, kombucha, and miso.
There are also capsule and tablet forms of probiotics, however, you should speak to a medical provider before taking them.
Rest and avoid exercising
As much as you’d like to get back into your daily routine, the best way to recover from any illness is to ensure that your body gets plenty of rest and time to recover.
This means no strenuous activities or exercises that can add pressure to your stomach or leave you even more dehydrated.
If you suffer from ‘runners trot’ or ‘runner’s diarrhea,’ then you may need to switch things up in your exercise, training, and eating routine to help you run smoothly without feeling sick.
Certain non-caffeinated teas can have a soothing effect on your stomach and help replenish liquids in your body too.
Brew teas like chamomile, peppermint, lemon, fennel, ginger, green, and herbal teas to relax your digestive muscles and help with digestion.
Foods to avoid
If you know that certain foods or substances give you diarrhea, then it is best to avoid having it often. Some people find that spicy, oily, and fried foods give them diarrhea.
Others get diarrhea or an upset stomach when they have too much sugar.
You may also find that alcohol, caffeine, dairy, and certain vegetables like prunes and dates make you want to go to the toilet immediately or more often.
Legumes, beans, and nuts make some people feel bloating and heavy, and may also cause indigestion and diarrhea. Generally, it is a good idea to eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet at all times.
When to Seek Medical Attention
If you are feeling dehydrated or if your diarrhea lasts longer than three days, seek help from a medical provider.
If you are in extreme pain that does not subside or if accompanying symptoms persist then consult a healthcare expert.
If you are feeling dizzy, cannot stop going to the toilet, and have trouble breathing or keeping food or liquid in your stomach then call 911 or visit the emergency room.
Those suffering from chronic illnesses, accompanying autoimmune disorders, are elderly, or very young will need medical attention almost immediately before the condition worsens.
A healthcare practitioner will run a few tests to determine the cause of your diarrhea and advise you on the best treatment options for your condition.
They may also conduct a physical examination to check your eyes, mouth, urine, and stool to reach an accurate diagnosis.
Sometimes, a physician may also want to test samples of your blood, urine, and stools for gastrointestinal pathogens and sometimes do an endoscopy, colonoscopy, or enteroscopy.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? If you have more questions or concerns regarding your digestive system, or if you are suffering from diarrhea too often, reach out to our team of certified clinicians who are ready to provide you with answers at any time.
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and, if needed, text a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Acute Diarrhea in Adults and Children: A Global Perspective. (2012).
Acute Diarrhea in Adults. (2014).
Treatment for Diarrhea. (2016).
Guidelines for the Management of Acute Diarrhea After a Disaster. (2019).