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What Is an Antidiarrheal?

Diarrhea may be caused by many different things, such as the stomach flu, food poisoning and emotional distress.
Prescription antidiarrheal medications are available for patients with chronic diarrhea.
Pepto-Bismol can help treat diarrhea.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Ohmega1982, Jackf, David Mayerhofer
  • Last Modified Date: 11 August 2014
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An antidiarrheal is a medicine that helps to stop diarrhea. There are some medications that are specifically designed for this purpose and others that have antidiarrheal side effects. The second group is likely to stop diarrhea or cause constipation whether or not that’s the intended goal. Sometimes medications are targeted to treat causes of diarrhea, and while they don’t end diarrhea on their own, their actions result in its cessation. These may be of use in certain circumstances depending on the cause of loose or frequent stool.

Some of the most common antidiarrheal drugs are available over the counter and are widely known. Certain medicines like bismuth subsalicylate, better known as the brand-name Pepto-Bismol®, can aid in a variety of stomach complaints including nausea and diarrhea. The active ingredient has anti-inflammatory properties that may help the stomach feel better, but it also can take several doses of this medicine before it completely works. Furthermore, many people are unaware that children 12 and under should not take bismuth subsalicylate because it can cause Reye’s syndrome.

Another over the counter antidiarrheal is loperamide (Imodium®). This medication is thought more effective than bismuth subsalicylate, often getting rid of diarrhea in a single dose. Overuse can cause significant constipation, and when this medicine doesn’t work, it’s indication to see a doctor, especially if diarrhea remains profuse.

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There are prescription antidiarrheal drugs that may be used for people with chronic diarrhea from conditions like cancer treatment or irritable bowel syndrome. These medications may reduce intestinal contractions. Some of these are atropine, octreotide, and tincture of opium. Actually most of the opioids like codeine and hydrocodone cause constipation, and they might be considered for treatment of some diarrhea. They have to be used with caution in those who don’t have diarrhea because they may result in fairly severe constipation.

Some people with intestinal conditions that cause chronic diarrhea also benefit from using fiber. While it would seem that fiber would create looser stool, it can actually have the opposite effect. Fiber has an ability to absorb water, which helps bulk up the stool. This can result in fewer bowel movements that are still easy to pass.

Different things can cause diarrhea. Some people have a mild stomach bug, but others can have food poisoning, and it’s usually not advisable to take standard over the counter or prescription antidiarrheal drugs if food poisoning is suspect. Instead, people often have to take antibiotics to rid themselves of the illness causing such unpleasant symptoms.

As an alternative to reaching for an over the counter solution, people should view severe diarrhea lasting for more than a day as indication to see a doctor and get diagnosis. If the cause is food poisoning, then doctors truly might use an antibiotic as an antidiarrheal. They may also recommend a prescribed or over the counter drug too, to slow down intestinal movement.

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