OTC Vs. Prescription Antidiarrheal Medication: Which Ones Should You Take?

Having diarrhea is one of the worst feelings in the world. Luckily, it’s something you notice you have in just a few hours, so you can get relief rather quickly. Many things can cause diarrhea, including bacteria, parasites, viruses, antibiotics, fructose, lactose intolerance, artificial sweeteners, digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease, etc. Diarrhea happens commonly enough that it doesn’t require any treatment, it will generally last a day or two, no matter whether you treat it or not. However, in some cases, you still want medicine to help you stop it, or just make you feel better, especially if you have stomach pain or cramping.

You can get over-the-counter and prescribed diarrhea medication. Which one you decide to go for will depend on a couple of factors that I’ll get to in a moment. But generally, both prescribed and over-the-counter diarrhea medication will provide relief. They are known as antidiarrheal medicine, which includes either loperamide or bismuth subsalicylate. Loperamide has one popular brand name Imodium, whereas bismuth subsalicylate has two brand names, Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate. Bismuth subsalicylate medicine can also be used if you have an upset stomach without diarrhea. However, you are still best off visiting a doctor if you have diarrhea, and let them give you a diagnosis.

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This is important because sometimes you don’t actually want to take over-the-counter antidiarrheal medicine, such as when the diarrhea is caused by parasites or bacteria. If you have a stomach bug, your body needs to get rid of it alone. If you stop diarrhea by using medication, you can make the condition worse. Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have a parasitic or bacterial infection. Additionally, you don’t want to give loperamide medication to children, young children, in particular, without speaking to your doctor. If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction or a rash after taking loperamide, you shouldn’t be taking it without talking to a doctor, as they may be signs of a more serious underlying issue. Additionally, don’t take over-the-counter loperamide if you have black or bloody stools, as that can mean you have a bacterial infection.

On the other hand, people who are allergic to aspirin or other salicylate medicine shouldn’t take bismuth subsalicylate. Further, don’t give this medication to children that are 12 or younger, and people who have chickenpox or flu, as that can increase the risk for Reye syndrome which is a serious, fatal illness. If you’re contemplating getting bismuth subsalicylate, you need to make sure you get a doctor’s approval if you’re also taking some of the following medication: antibiotics, blood-thinning medicine, pain medicine, antiviral medicine for HIV, medicine for arthritis, diabetes, and gout.

diarrhea medication

That being said, carefully read the directions on the medication’s label. If there’s something you don’t understand, contact your doctor. And as much as it’s common sense, a lot of people disregard the label and take more medicine than they should, or take it more often than they need to. Don’t assume that taking more antidiarrheal medication will work faster or better. Further, if you’re taking and prescription meds, ask your doctor whether it’s okay to take off-the-counter antidiarrheal medicine. And lastly, don’t use more than one type of antidiarrheal medicine at a time, unless your doctor says otherwise, simply because the medication can have similar active ingredients that can add up to be too much for your body.

While most healthy adults won’t experience any side-effects from diarrhea medication, people who have health problems or are elderly may notice some of the following side-effects: abdominal pain, dizziness, constipation, nausea or vomiting from loperamide, and constipation, blackened tongue and/or stool and ringing sound in the ear in the form of tinnitus from bismuth subsalicylate. However, if you have a long-term condition, you’ll need something more than over-the-counter meds, as most over-the-counter diarrhea medication should only be used short-term, for one or two days at most.

antidiarrheal medicine

Some of the options you have for some of the long-term conditions are Alosetron (Lotronex) which is meant for treating women with IBS whose main symptom is diarrhea. Eluxadoline (Viberzi) which is a pill for irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea that’s taken twice a day, every day. Rifaximin (Xifaxan), which is a pill that you take three times a day for a fortnight. It’s used to treat moderate and severe irritable bowel syndrome in people who have bloating but no constipation. For some people, Xifaxan can relieve the symptoms of stomach pain and diarrhea for about 2 to 6 months, but if symptoms come back, you can take it twice a day for a week or two.

When it’s all said and done, whether you take over-the-counter or prescription medication will come down to your symptoms and your doctor’s recommendation. While most of the time diarrhea can be treated by staying hydrated and waiting it out for a day or two, sometimes you need that extra bit of relief in the form of antidiarrheal medication which can be either OTC or prescribed by your family doctor.

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Anthony Hendriks