Diarrhea can be uncomfortable and unpleasant and can severely disrupt a person’s day. However, most diarrhea episodes are short-term or “acute,” though some may persist for days or even weeks.
This article outlines the typical duration of diarrhea, provides tips on how to get fast relief, and offers advice on when to see a doctor.
Below are several methods that adults can use to alleviate diarrhea quickly.
The most common and convenient solution for alleviating acute diarrhea is over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as:
The above medications are not suitable for people whose diarrhea is accompanied by the following symptoms:
Learn more about the causes of chronic diarrhea and how to treat it here.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help eliminate a bacterial infection of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
People may contract harmful bacteria as a result of eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Bacteria that commonly cause diarrhea include:
Learn about the side effects of antibiotics here.
Certain dietary adjustments may help alleviate an acute episode of diarrhea and reduce the risk of further complications. Examples include:
Learn more about what foods to eat with diarrhea here.
Loose, watery stools cause a person to lose fluids and electrolytes. This can quickly lead to dehydration and associated complications.
Signs of dehydration include:
To prevent dehydration, a person should drink at least one cup of fluids after each bout of diarrhea. Fruit juices and sports drinks are good options as they are high in potassium and other important electrolytes.
Learn more about dehydration here.
According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, the following supplements may help to alleviate diarrhea:
Psyllium, pectin, and blackberry root bark may help slow down the digestive system, reducing the frequency and urgency of bowel movements.
Probiotics may help reduce the duration of diarrhea in children. However, people who are taking antibiotics should finish the course before taking probiotics.
Find out more ways to treat diarrhea at home here.
The treatment for acute diarrhea in infants differs from that for adults. For example, OTC anti-diarrheal medications are not suitable for children unless a doctor has prescribed them.
Below are some methods for treating diarrhea in infants.
An infant with diarrhea must continue to feed and drink as normal. People who are breastfeeding should continue to do so if the infant is still willing to drink fluids.
Oral rehydration solutions can help replace the fluids and electrolytes lost during episodes of diarrhea. Examples of such solutions include:
A 2014 review article notes that daily zinc supplements may help to treat and prevent episodes of acute diarrhea in infants. They suggest that children older than two months may benefit from 20 milligrams of zinc per day over 10 days.
Additional research is necessary to determine whether this type of treatment has applications for adults.
Learn more about diarrhea in children and why they might have green poop here.
People who are experiencing diarrhea should avoid foods and ingredients that could make their diarrhea worse. This includes the following:
Persistent or recurrent episodes of diarrhea may indicate an underlying food sensitivity or intolerance. Anyone who has a suspected food sensitivity or intolerance should avoid foods that trigger bouts of diarrhea.
Some common triggers of food sensitivities and intolerances include:
Learn more about alcohol and diarrhea here.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) defines “diarrhea” as passing three or more loose, watery stools per day.
The NIDDK categorize diarrhea into the following three types, based on its duration:
The NIDDK recommend that adults see a doctor if their diarrhea lasts more than 2 days. They add that children should see a doctor if their diarrhea lasts 24 hours or more.
Acute diarrhea can take a day or two to subside. In the meantime, people can follow the tips below to help alleviate their symptoms:
Adults should see a doctor if they have diarrhea that lasts longer than 2 days or experience six or more diarrhea episodes within 24 hours. They should also see a doctor if their diarrhea is accompanied by any of the following:
Infants should see a doctor if they have diarrhea that lasts 24 hours or more, or if any of the following symptoms accompany their diarrhea:
Adults and children with a weakened immune system or other underlying medical conditions should see a doctor immediately if they experience diarrhea.
Diarrhea can come on suddenly and resolve on its own just as quickly. Most cases are acute, lasting up to 2 days. However, people may also experience persistent or chronic diarrhea that comes and goes over several weeks.
Thankfully, there are methods for quickly and effectively alleviating diarrhea symptoms. These methods differ somewhat for children and adults.
People should see a doctor if their diarrhea persists, or they experience other worrying symptoms. A doctor will work to diagnose the cause of the diarrhea and provide appropriate treatments.
Last medically reviewed on September 30, 2020