In a perfect world, everyone's poops would pop out resembling a smooth, soft sausage and snake around the toilet bowl (you know, according to the famous Bristol Stool Chart).
But the world isn't perfect—and neither are your poops. Of course, you already knew that; a quick look in the toilet on any given day and you can see a variety of shapes, colors, and consistencies—the most undesirable of which? Diarrhea.
Yes, when your poop looks more liquid than solid, it could be for a number of reasons, like bacteria growing in your gut or something you ate the night before just not agreeing with you. That, unfortunately, makes it hard to diagnose.
“Diarrhea can often be challenging to even define,” Amir Masoud, MD, a gastroenterologist at Yale Medicine, tells Health. “Some people regard a change in stool consistency to mean that they have diarrhea when the actual medical diagnosis depends on the frequency of stool.” (According to the US National Library of Medicine, you have diarrhea if you have loose stools three or more times in one day.)
Dr. Masoud points out that most cases of loose stool are self-limiting and that they stop spontaneously. However, others can point to an infection or inflammation. “Worrisome causes should always be considered and ruled out but are usually accompanied by other alarming features,” he adds. The most common of these is blood in the stool. Other associated symptoms to look out for are fevers/chills, abdominal pain, tenesmus (aka, the constant feeling like you have to go poop), mucous in stool, or weight loss. In the case of infections, most are viral—and even most bacterial cases resolve without the need for treatment.
But if nothing else seems off and you think you just have a bad case of diarrhea, there are a few treatments—both medication and home remedies—that may help stop the flow. Here, gastroenterologists weigh in on their favorite ways to stop diarrhea—fast.
1. Try some over-the-counter medications.
If you are suffering from run-of-the-mill diarrhea and there are no obvious concerning findings or complaints, you might want to try heading to the drug store for some over-the-counter relief. “Some simple strategies can help reduce the discomfort associated with loose stool or diarrhea,” says Dr. Masoud.
He suggests over the counter remedies such as pink bismuth (Pepto Bismol) and medications such as loperamide (Imodium). “They may useful in reducing the frequency of stool and may relieve cramping,” he says.
2. Follow the BRAT diet…
Remember mom’s remedy for all your childhood tummy aches? The BRAT diet—an acronym standing for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast —is an old dietary go-to that has sustained the test of time. “Dietary strategies are aimed at bowel rest and therefore following a bland diet can be helpful,” says Dr. Masoud.
3. …Or at least skip dairy and fried foods for a while.
If you aren’t willing go hardcore BRAT, staying away from dairy—except probiotic-rich yogurt—and heavy fatty foods is almost always a useful strategy, offer Dr. Masoud.
4. Drink your water.
One of the most important tactics with diarrhea is making hydration a priority, points out Rachel Franklin, MD, Medical Director, OU Physicians Family Medicine, in Oklahoma; that's because having diarrhea can be extremely dehydrating.
Consume as much fluid as you can, but avoid dehydrating beverages with sugar, caffeine, alcohol, or prunes—all of which can have a laxative effect and make your bathroom habits worse.
5. Gulp down a sports drink
Most people think of Gatorade as a sports beverage, as it replenishes electrolytes after a workout, helping restore hydration. It works the same way when you have diarrhea. “If the volume and frequency of watery stool is significant, steps must be taken to avoid dehydration,” Dr. Masoud explains. “The most important thing to remember is that with fluid losses also come electrolyte depletion.”
6. Snack on saltines.
In addition to drinking a sports drink, Dr. Masoud suggests munching on a mildly salty crackers. “Saltines are a good choice given the low residue and salt content,” he says. Of course, he warns that if you have high blood pressure or on a salt restricted diet, you should do this in moderation.
7. Consider a probiotic or other good bacteria.
Since diarrhea often involves a whole lot of bad bacteria in your gut, replacing it with good bacteria can be beneficial, according to Dr. Masoud. “Some probiotics have been shown to be helpful in certain cases with the two most studied being lactobacillus and saccharomyces boulardii,” he says.
But it's not just drugstore probiotics—adding good bacteria and probiotic rich foods like yogurt and sauerkraut can also help inspire balance in your sour stomach.
Still, if your symptoms are severe (i.e., more than five or six watery bowel movements a day, and last more than two days), Dr. Masoud urges you to call your physician ASAP. Any cases with blood in stool or fever should be evaluated without delay.“In general it is important to never minimize or brush off symptoms," he says. "It's never a bad idea to contact your primary care physician for direction if you develop a change in your bowel habits."
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