5 Best OTC Medications For Diarrhea Relief

Alyssa Corso
Alyssa Corso11 May 2024
Reviewed and Fact Checked ✔️

What Causes Diarrhea?

The World Health Organization estimates that each year, 2 billion cases of diarrhea occur, primarily instigated by infectious pathogens. About 1.9 million children under the age of five in low- and middle-income countries perish because of this condition, making diarrhea the second leading cause of death in this age group.

The pathogens contributing to the enormous burden of diarrheal diseases vary widely. A systematic analysis of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors study showed four primary pathogens to be responsible for many diarrhea cases worldwide. 

Cause of DiarrheaPrevalenceSymptoms
Viral infections70%Watery stools, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, fever
Bacterial infections20%Watery stools, bloody stools, mucus in stools, stomach cramps, fever
Parasitic infections10%Watery stools, foul-smelling stools, gas, bloating, weight loss
Food allergies and intolerances5%Watery stools, bloating, gas, abdominal pain
Medications5%Watery stools, abdominal pain
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)2%Watery stools, bloody stools, mucus in stools, stomach cramps, fever, weight loss
Malabsorption syndromes1%Watery stools, bloating, gas, weight loss

How Long Does Diarrhea Last?

The duration of diarrhea largely depends on its cause. As per the information provided by Mayo Clinic, acute diarrhea - often a result of a bacterial or viral infection - typically lasts one to two days and disappears on its own without treatment. However, prolonged or chronic diarrhea that persists for four or more weeks may indicate a serious health problem requiring medical attention.

When Should I See a Doctor for Diarrhea?

While most cases of diarrhea resolve independently, it's crucial to consult a healthcare provider if your symptoms persist for more than a few days or are accompanied by high fever, bloody stools, severe pain, or signs of dehydration like dark urine and extreme thirst. These could point towards a more serious underlying condition. If you don't have insurance, Mira could be a great option at $45/month

Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms related to diarrhea:

  • Persistent diarrhea lasting more than 3 days.
  • Presence of fever, bloody stools, or mucus in the stools alongside diarrhea.
  • Severe abdominal pain or cramping with diarrhea.
  • Signs of dehydration, including:
    • Dry mouth
    • Decreased urination
    • Lightheadedness
  • Diarrhea in vulnerable populations, such as:
    • Infants and young children
    • Individuals with weakened immune systems (e.g., those with HIV/AIDS or cancer)
  • Diarrhea potentially caused by medications you are taking.
  • Diarrhea accompanied by any other concerning symptoms.

5 Best Over-the-counter Medications for Diarrhea Relief

Imodium, primarily containing Loperamide, is a go-to over-the-counter solution for alleviating diarrhea by moderating gut movement. Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate both use Bismuth Subsalicylate as their key ingredient, providing relief from diarrhea and associated stomach discomfort; with the former also serving as an antacid. Maalox, formulated with Aluminium Hydroxide and Magnesium Hydroxide, stands out as an effective neutralizer for excess stomach acid, targeting heartburn and indigestion besides diarrhea. Activated Charcoal, distinct from the others, is valued for its ability to absorb toxins and bacteria causing diarrhea. 

Lastly, Oral Rehydration Solutions (ORS) are crucial in replenishing fluids and electrolytes lost due to diarrhea, preventing dehydration. All these medications offer unique benefits in addressing diarrhea and its related symptoms, but it's essential to consult a healthcare professional for appropriate use and dosage.

MedicationKey IngredientBest For
ImodiumLoperamideAlleviating diarrhea by slowing down gut movement
Pepto-BismolBismuth SubsalicylateDiarrhea, stomach discomfort, and as an antacid
KaopectateBismuth SubsalicylateDiarrhea and associated stomach discomfort
MaaloxAluminium Hydroxide and Magnesium HydroxideNeutralizing excess stomach acid, heartburn, indigestion
Activated CharcoalCharcoal (activated form)Absorbing toxins and bacteria causing diarrhea
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Alyssa Corso

Alyssa is a Senior Marketing Associate & Content Writer at Mira. She is passionate about educating others on how to affordably access healthcare.

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