Diarrhea is an increase in the wateriness, volume, or frequency of bowel
movements. Although uncomfortable, most diarrhea is not serious and will go away
in a few days without treatment. See a health care provider, however, if the
feces contain blood, if the diarrhea is particularly severe, or if the diarrhea
lasts more than a few days.
Signs and Symptoms
Diarrhea is a symptom of another ailment. Symptoms you might experience with
diarrhea include the following.
Frequent need to defecate
Abdominal pain, cramping
Fever, chills, general sick feeling
What Causes It?
Most diarrhea is caused by an infection (viral, bacterial, or parasitic) or
intestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease. Another common cause is
food poisoning. Eating local food and drinking local water during foreign travel
can result in "traveler's diarrhea."
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your health care provider will question you about your symptoms. Your
provider will also check if you are dehydrated and may feel your abdomen to see
if it is tender, listen to your abdomen with a stethoscope, and give you a
In many cases, diarrhea will disappear on its own. However, there are various
drugs to treat symptoms of diarrhea. Your health care provider may suggest the
following drugs for your diarrhea:
Opioid derivatives: diphenoxulate with atropine sulfate, and
Adsorbents: Bismuth salt (for traveler's diarrhea) and
Bulk-forming medications: psyllium
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Work with your provider to find remedies that are right for you.
Avoid coffee, chocolate, dairy products, strong spices, and solid
foods. Introduce clear soup, crackers, white bread, rice, potatoes, applesauce,
and bananas as diarrhea gets better.
Rice or barley water, fresh vegetable juices (especially carrot and
celery), miso broth, or other clear broths help restore proper fluid and
electrolyte balance. Make rice and barley water using 1 cup of raw grain to 1
quart of boiling water. Let steep for 20 minutes. Strain and drink throughout
Lactobacillus taken as powder or in capsules helps normalize bowel
flora and may help cure your diarrhea. Take as directed.
Glutamine (3,000 mg three times per day) is helpful in treating
diarrhea that is caused by irritation of the intestinal lining rather than
Do not use herbs to treat diarrhea without talking to your health care
provider first. If your diarrhea is caused by certain types of infections,
herbal treatments could make it worse. The most common herbal remedies for
diarrhea are described below. They are best used as teas unless otherwise noted.
Teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10
minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups
Quercetin (250 to 500 mg two to four times per day)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Marshmallow root (Althea officinalis) as cold-water tea. Soak
2 tbsp. root in 1 quart of water overnight. Strain; drink throughout the
Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) 250 to 500 mg three times per
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) 250 to 500 mg three times
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Do not take if you have
high blood pressure.
Blackberry leaf (Rubus fruticosus) or raspberry leaf (Rubus
idaeus) 1 heaping tsp. per cup. Drink ½ cup per hour.
Carob powder; use 4 tsp. per 4 oz. of water or mix in applesauce.
Take ½ to 1 tsp. every 30 to 60 minutes.
Slippery elm powder (Ulmus fulva) or marshmallow root powder
(Althaea officinalis); use 1 oz. powder to 1 quart of water. Make a paste
with the powder and a small amount of water. Gradually add in the rest of the
water and then simmer down to 1 pint. Take 1 tsp. every 30 to 60
In a recent study of children with acute diarrhea, those who received an
individualized homeopathic treatment for five days had a significantly shorter
duration of diarrhea than children who received placebo. Some of the most
effective homeopathic remedies are listed below. Before prescribing a remedy,
homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic
terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and
intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when
determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular
Arsenicum album — for foul-smelling
diarrhea from food poisoning or traveler's diarrhea with burning sensation in
the abdomen and around the anus; this remedy is most appropriate for individuals
who feel exhausted yet restless and whose symptoms tend to worsen in the cold
and improve with warmth; vomiting may also occur; Arsenicum may also be
used to prevent diarrhea when traveling
Chamomilla — for greenish, frothy
stool that smells like rotten eggs; used primarily for children, especially
those who are irritable, argumentative, and difficult to console; commonly
recommended for colicky or teething infants
Calcarea carbonica — for children who
fear being in the dark or alone and who perspire heavily while sleeping; stools
have a sour odor
Mercurius — for foul-smelling diarrhea
that may have streaks of blood accompanied by a sensation of incomplete
emptying; this remedy is most appropriate for individuals who tend to feel
exhausted following bowel movements, experience extreme changes in body
temperatures, perspire heavily, and have a thirst for cold fluids
Podophyllum —for explosive, gushing,
painless diarrhea that becomes worse after eating or drinking; exhaustion often
follows bowel movements and the individual for whom this remedy is appropriate
may experience painful cramps in lower extremities; often used in infants for
diarrhea experienced from teething
Pulsatilla — for diarrhea that occurs
after consuming too much fruit or rich, greasy food; stools are greenish in
infants and of changing consistencies in older children
Sulphur — for irritable and weepy
children; may have a red ring around the anus and diarrhea with the odor of
Veratrum album — for profuse, watery
diarrhea accompanied by stomach cramps, bloated abdomen, vomiting, exhaustion,
and chills; the diarrhea is worsened by fruit, and the individual craves cold
Although acupuncturists in China have reported success in treating childhood
diarrhea, acupuncturists in the United States do not generally treat this
condition in children. However, acupuncture may be used when conventional
treatment has failed. In this case, acupuncturists would examine both the
nutritional value and the "energetic" qualities of food that might be affecting
digestion. Acupuncture is also combined with conventional medicine in treating
diarrhea in adults.
Acupuncturists treat people with diarrhea based on an individualized
assessment of the excesses and deficiencies of qi located in various meridians.
In the case of diarrhea, a qi deficiency is usually detected in the spleen
meridian. As a result, acupuncture treatments often focus on strengthening this
meridian. Moxibustion (a technique in which the herb mugwort is burned over
specific acupuncture points) is frequently used in the treatment of diarrhea
because its effect is thought to reach deeper into the body than needling
If your diarrhea does not stop in three to five days, contact your health
If you are pregnant, tell your doctor. Dehydration can cause you to go into
labor early. Also, the spasms that diarrhea causes may cause you to have
contractions. Do not take goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), barberry
(Berberis vulgaris), or highdoses of vitamin A if you are
Diarrhea can be serious, even fatal, for infants and elderly people because
of dehydration and the loss of electrolytes.
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Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Shiva Barton, ND, Wellspace,
Cambridge, MA; Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, FACP, Director, The Johns Hopkins Weight
Management Center, Lutherville, MD; Gary Guebert, DC, DACBR, Login Chiropractic
College, Maryland Heights, MO; Peter Hinderberger, MD, PhD, Ruscombe Mansion
Community Health Center, Baltimore, MD; Marcellus Walker, MD, LAc, (Acupuncture
section October 2001) St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center, New York, NY; Ira
Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA, (Acupuncture section October 2001) President and Chairman,
Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
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of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents
of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a
guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed