Antidiarrheal Medications - drugs - information and complications

Antidiarrheal Medications - drugs - information and complications

Antidiarrheal Medications - medications that relieve DIARRHEA. Antidiarrheal medications work by slowing the activity of the gastrointestinal tract or by absorbing more fluid in the COLON (large intestine). Though diarrhea is unpleasant, doctors recommend letting the body restore its balance without medications in most circumstances of acute diarrhea. Acute diarrhea (diarrhea that comes on suddenly) may result from simple gastrointestinal upset following unusual foods and beverages, (such as when traveling), excessive CAFFEINE consumption, FOOD-BORNE ILLNESSES, or viral INFECTION (GASTROENTERITIS or ENTERITIS). These circumstances tend to resolve themselves within a few days, which may be briefer than the actions of many antidiarrheal medications.

Taking an antidiarrheal product may result in rebound CONSTIPATION. However, diarrhea more significantly interferes with daily activities than does constipation, and many people opt to take medications to slow or stop it. It is important to drink extra fluids when taking antidiarrheal medications, to replace fluids lost with the diarrhea as well as to maintain adequate hydration of the gastrointestinal tract to prevent rebound constipation from developing. Some antidiarrheal medications are available over the counter and others require a doctor’s prescription.

Common Antidiarrheal Medications
Active IngredientRepresentative ProductsAvailability
attapulgite Kaopectate, Parepectolin over the counter
belladonna Donnatal requires a doctor’s prescription
bismuth subsalicylate Pepto-Bismol over the counter
codeine codeine requires a doctor’s prescription
difenoxin and atropine Motofen requires a doctor’s prescription
diphenoxylate Lomotil requires a doctor’s prescription
kaolin and pectin Kapectolin over the counter
loperamide Imodium over the counter
methylcellulose Citrucel over the counter
octreotide Sandostatin requires a doctor’s prescription
paregoric camphorated tincture of opium requires a doctor’s prescription
psyllium Metamucil over the counter

Doctors sometimes prescribe anticholinergic medications, which act on the NERVOUS SYSTEM to slow gastrointestinal function, for severe diarrhea. However, these medications have numerous actions throughout the body, and doctors tend to reserve them for use when other antidiarrheal medications are ineffective. Opiate NARCOTICS such as paregoric and codeine are effective for slowing gastrointestinal motility. Attapulgite, pectin, and kaolin are natural substances that absorb fluid. Though typically perceived as LAXATIVES, bulking agents such as psyllium and methylcellulose also absorb water and can help restore normal bowel function.

Antidiarrheal medications are most effective for controlling outbreaks of diarrhea such as may occur with IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME (IBS), INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE (IBD), and MALABSORPTION. Antidiarrheal medications are also effective for treating antibiotic-induced diarrhea that does not end when the antibiotic therapy ends. Remedies such as taking lactobacillus or eating plain yogurt may help restore normal BACTERIA to the gastrointestinal tract.

The most frequent complication of antidiarrheal medications is rebound constipation. A rare but serious complication that can occur when taking antidiarrheal medications that slow gastrointestinal motility is TOXIC MEGACOLON, in which the colon becomes vastly dilated and flaccid and the flow of the intestinal content stops. Antidiarrheal medications also can mask conditions that require medical attention. For most people, occasional use of over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications provides prompt relief of diarrhea with few complications.

See also ANTACIDS; ANTIEMETIC MEDICATIONS; FIBER AND GASTROINTESTINAL HEALTH.

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The Gastrointestinal System

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