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What Is an Anti-Diarrheal?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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An anti-diarrheal, also known as an antidiarrheal, is a medication that is used to treat symptoms related to diarrhea. They generally work either by slowing the passage of the material through the intestines, extracting the excess liquid, or by limiting the secretion of fluid into the intestines. These medications, it should be stressed, do not directly deal with the causes of the problem, just the diarrhea symptoms. Persistent diarrhea can be a dangerous situation, and should be checked by a medical professional.

One of the most common active ingredients in an anti-diarrheal is loperamide. This is the drug that works by slowing down the process of the waste material moving through the intestines. Generally, this allows the body some additional time to reabsorb the liquids, and thus produce more normal bowel movements. Dizziness, drowsiness, and constipation, either by themselves or in combination with the others, are common side effects of loperamide. Those who experience these symptoms may want to stop use of the medication, if the side effects become too overwhelming.

Another common anti-diarrheal is known as attapulgite. This works by binding, a process also known as adsorbing, large numbers of bacteria and toxins. This could help reduce the amount of liquid being lost. At the same time, the medication cannot distinguish between good bacteria, bad bacteria and enzymes the body may need. Therefore, prolonged use of this medication should happen only after consulting a doctor.

The other anti-diarrheal that is also very common is known as bismuth subsalicylate. This medication restricts the passage, or flow, of liquids into the intestines, and can also reduce inflammation in the intestines. In some cases, this medication could also help to kill or reduce some of the bacteria causing the diarrhea. This medication is usually taken in liquid form.

Those suffering from diarrhea should follow all label directions for over-the-counter medications, unless directed to do otherwise by a physician. These medications can be very powerful, and could produce undesired side effects if taken too often, or in excess of the recommended dosage. Frequently, the medications will direct an initial dose, followed by a subsequent dose with each loose bowel movement. The directions typically include a maximum number of doses that can be taken in any 24-hour time period.

While not typically thought of as an anti-diarrheal, antibiotics may help by treating the root causes of the diarrhea. These work to kill the bacteria thought to be responsible for causing the illness. Until the root cause of the problem is under control, both a medication that treats the symptoms and the causes may be used. Patients should disclose if they are using an over-the-counter remedy before the doctor prescribes another medication.

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