Most cases of diarrhoea pass within 5-7 days, but the symptoms can be unpleasant and you may find yourself searching for remedies that will help you to treat your symptoms more quickly.
Drinking plenty of fluids is an important first step, because diarrhoea can make you dehydrated.
But there are other things that you can try to reduce the frequency of your bowel movements, and help you recover sooner.
Natural ways to reduce or manage diarrhoea
Certain foods and drinks are linked to relieving symptoms of diarrhoea, but the evidence supporting them varies.
Bland foods and soluble fibre
Eating bland foods like white bread, bananas and white rice may help you to reduce your bowel movements. These foods are low in insoluble dietary fibre (or roughage) which means that they’re less likely to get your bowels moving.
You can also try eating foods that are high in soluble dietary fibre, like apple sauce, boiled potato or oatmeal. These help to absorb excess liquid in your bowels and make your poo more firm.
According to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, you should also avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar, as they can irritate the stomach and make your diarrhoea worse.
Try a probiotic
Several studies suggest that probiotics could help to reduce your bowel movements when you have diarrhoea.
Probiotics are 'good' bacteria that are thought to help improve how your gut functions. They’re often found in fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir or yogurt but you can also buy tablets, capsules and sachets that contain live bacteria.
It’s thought that probiotics could stimulate your immune system, and there’s some evidence to show that taking them could shorten the time it takes for your diarrhoea to end when it’s been caused by an infection.
However, results vary between studies and it’s not clear which probiotics should be used to treat diarrhoea. Experts also say that more evidence is needed to prove that probiotics are effective.
It’s important to note that while probiotics are safe for most people, you might not be able to take them if your immune system is weak or doesn't function properly.
What about drinking rice water?
Rice water is a popular natural remedy for diarrhoea. It may help to reduce your bowel movements, and replenish some of the nutrients that are lost due to dehydration. But there isn’t much evidence to support these claims.
Data from one small study on babies suggested that there may be some benefit, but these findings have not been replicated elsewhere.
If you’re suffering from diarrhoea, it may be safer to stick with treatments that have been tested thoroughly.
Medications that can treat diarrhoea
As well as dietary changes, a range of medications and treatments are available to help relieve symptoms of diarrhoea.
Oral rehydration solutions
Diarrhoea can make you dehydrated and reduce the amount of water in your body, upsetting your balance of essential nutrients.
An oral rehydration solution will help you to restore these nutrients and make sure that your body doesn't become dangerously dehydrated.
According to the NHS, oral rehydration solutions are normally recommended for children, the frail and the elderly but you can buy them from most pharmacies.
You should speak to a doctor if you notice these signs of dehydration, including:
- extreme thirst
- feeling unusually tired or confused
- not passing urine for eight hours
- a rapid heartbeat
- dizziness that comes on when you stand up and doesn't go away after a few seconds
Anti-diarrhoeal medications like loperamide can be used to treat diarrhoea. Loperamide is an antimotility drug, which means it slows down your bowels, and reduces how often you pass stools.
It is effective, but it’s not always necessary and it’s not recommended for children under 12.
Loperamide can also interact with other drugs so check with a pharmacist or doctor before you start taking it.
When to see a doctor about diarrhoea
Most cases of diarrhoea are caused by a stomach bug or a virus that can be treated at home.
But there are times when diarrhoea can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, which should be treated by doctors. This includes conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn's disease.
Signs that you need to see a doctor about diarrhoea include:
- traces of blood in your stool
- persistent vomiting
- a severe or continuous stomach ache
- weight loss
You should also visit a doctor if your diarrhoea is particularly frequent or severe.
Black or tarry stools can be a sign that you're bleeding into your stomach -- a serious medical emergency that needs to be treated by a doctor.