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Diarrhea refers to the passing of frequent, loose, watery stool. Mild cases of diarrhea can be effectively treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medications while a consultation from a doctor is necessary in moderate-to-severe cases. It should also be noted that these medicines are not advised for children below 2 years of age and used with caution or under medical guidance in children. Pregnant women should take medical advice before taking any of these medications.1,2

OTC Medications

The common OTC medications for diarrhea contain: 1–4

  • Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate)
  • Loperamide

Bismuth Subsalicylate

This medicine was found to be safe and effective in the treatment of short-term diarrhea with no specific underlying cause. It helps in relieving diarrhea by balancing the way fluid moves through the bowels.


Adults: Bismuth subsalicylate 524 or 528 mg every half-hour to one hour or 1048 or 1056 mg every hour if needed


Allergy to the drug.


  • Can affect the functioning of the drugs such as blood thinning agents, drugs for gout, arthritis or diabetes.
  • Can cause temporary darkening of the tongue and stools.


Loperamide slows down the speed of fluids moving through the bowels.


Adults: Loperamide 4 mg (two capsules) followed by 2 mg (one capsule) after each unformed stool. Daily dose should not exceed 16 mg (eight capsules).


  • Allergy to the drug.
  • Dark or bloody stools.


  • When taken too frequently can result in constipation.
  • Can cause crampy pain in some individuals.

When to Seek Medical Help

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Prompt medical attention should be sought in the following cases:

  • Diarrhea associated with fever, pain in the abdomen (which is not relieved after passing stool), mucus or blood in stools.
  • Presence of other underlying disorders.
  • If diarrhea persists for more than 2 days.
  • Diarrhea following travel to a different place, or having contaminated food.


  1. Semrad Ce, Powell DW. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D (eds). Goldman: Cecil Medicine. 23rd edn. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2007.
  2. Pray WS, Pray JJ. The 2003 Antidiarrheal Final Rule. US Pharmacist. 2005; 30(1).
  3. American Academy of Family Physicians. Antidiarrheal Medicines: OTC Relief for Diarrhea. Leawood, KS: American Academy of Family Physicians. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/otc-center/otc-medicines/855.html. Accessed on: 6 August 2008 [homepage on the Internet].
  4. Yates J. Traveler’s diarrhea. Am Fam Physician. 2005; 71(11): 2095–2100.

Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: May 10, 2015

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