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Diarrhea has several common causes including eating contaminated foods, water or other beverages; viral infections (the "stomach flu"); lactose (dairy product) intolerance; food allergies; and intestinal parasites. Some medications, such as certain antibiotics, can cause diarrhea. It can also be caused by seemingly unrelated things like menstrual cramps, overuse of alcohol, stress, or panic attacks.

Diarrhea can affect the absorption (and therefore the effectiveness) of oral medications. If you have significant diarrhea and take birth control pills, use a backup birth control method like condoms until you start your next period. However, keep taking your pills on schedule. Contact your healthcare provider about possible effects of diarrhea on other medications you're taking.

This advice deals only with diarrhea lasting two weeks or less and that is not occurring together with or as a result of another medical problem.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Frequent loose or watery bowel movements
  • Cramping or abdominal pain
  • Fever and/or chills


  • Drink four to eight ounces of clear liquid every hour. Drink mostly water, but also drink non-caffeinated drinks like sports drinks, broth/bouillon, flat sodas or ginger ale, weak teas, or diluted juices.
  • If you wish, you may take a non-prescription anti-diarrheal medication.
  • Unless a healthcare provider tells you to do so, don't take an antidiarrheal medication if you have a fever, severe abdominal pain, or blood or mucous in your stool.

Choose: soft, starchy foods; lean meats; cooked vegetables; non milk-based soups; fruits high in potassium such as bananas and avocados; and yogurt (especially with lactobacillus acidophilus).

Avoid: alcohol; caffeinated foods or beverages; over-the-counter medication with ibuprofen or aspirin; spicy, acidic or fried food; milk products (except for yogurt); raw vegetables and fruits (other than those listed above); bran; nuts; and gas-producing foods.

Over the Counter Medication for Diarrhea

  • Brand names listed as examples do not imply better quality over other brands. Generic equivalents may also exist.
  • Use only as directed on the package, unless your healthcare provider instructs you to do otherwise.
  • OTCs may interact with other medications or be potentially harmful if you have certain medical conditions. Talk to your pharmacist about options that are right for you.

Loperamide (example: Imodium AD®)

Forty Acres Pharmacy

Forty Acres Pharmacy

The Forty Acres Pharmacy, located in the SSB 1.110 and operated by the UT College of Pharmacy, sells a wide variety of OTC medications and treatments. Ask our pharmacists to help you choose appropriate medications or products for your symptoms.

Red Flags


  • Fever of 100.5 degrees F (38 degrees C) or higher
  • Signs of significant dehydration such as dizziness (especially when you stand up), dry mouth, decreased urination and/or dark yellow urine, and weakness
  • Diarrhea following recent travel outside of the U.S., especially to a developing country
  • Blood and/or mucous in your stool
  • Diarrhea that lasts longer than 72 hours without decreasing in frequency
  • Severe abdominal pain that doesn't improve after a bowel movement


  • Abdominal swelling with a fever
  • Passing large or repeated amounts of bloody, black, or tarry-looking stool
  • Severe dizziness, fainting, severe breathing problems, severe weakness, or stupor

Related Topics

Food Allergies
Nausea / Vomiting

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.

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