What are some remedies for upset stomach and diarrhea?

By ​​Benjamin Renelus, MD, Gastroenterologist Jan 08, 2024 • 8 min

Upset stomach and diarrhea are two common gastrointestinal issues that many people experience from time to time. When symptoms strike, you may find it difficult to continue your daily activities. Fortunately, there are a number of remedies available to ease an upset stomach and diarrhea so that you can feel better.

Medical treatments for upset stomach and diarrhea

Over-the-counter medications are typically the first-line treatment for occasional upset stomach and diarrhea. Although you can buy these medicines without a prescription, it’s a good idea to consult your healthcare provider before taking them, as some can interact with medications and/or cause health complications in people with certain medical conditions.

When upset stomach and diarrhea become chronic problems, healthcare providers may recommend additional tests or prescription medications. The following are some of the medications commonly used to treat diarrhea and upset stomach:

1. Antacids

Available over the counter under brand names like Tums and Rolaids, antacids help relieve indigestion. They work by neutralizing gastric acid and increasing the gastric and duodenal pH. Antacids tend to work quickly and provide relief for a short period of time.  

2. Bismuth subsalicylate

Another over-the-counter medication, bismuth salicylate can help settle an upset stomach and ease other digestive symptoms, like diarrhea, indigestion and gas. Like antacids, bismuth salicylate medications, such as Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate, work fairly quickly and are intended for occasional symptoms. Bismuth subsalicylate reduces gastric secretions, and it also has antibacterial properties. 

3. Loperamide

Sold over the counter under the brand names Imodium A-D and K-Pek II, loperamide is a medication for occasional diarrhea. It works by slowing down the digestive system to decrease the frequency of bowel movements. In most cases, healthcare providers recommend taking loperamide for no longer than two days. 

4. H2 blockers

For chronic upset stomach caused by stomach acid, healthcare providers may recommend H2 blockers like cimetidine, famotidine, nizatidine and ranitidine. These medications reduce the amount of acid released by glands in the stomach. H2 blockers typically begin to work within 30 to 90 minutes and continue to provide relief for several hours. Prescription versions of H2 blockers are also available for symptoms that don’t respond to over-the-counter medications. 

5. Proton pump inhibitors

People who experience an upset stomach due to stomach acid two or more times per week may benefit from proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs. These drugs take longer to provide benefits than H2 blockers, but they control stomach acid for longer, so they typically only need to be taken once per day, often before your first meal. Healthcare providers typically recommend a two-week course of PPIs before assessing how well they’re working, and they may be recommended for up to eight weeks. 

You can purchase three PPIs over the counter: esomeprazole, lansoprazole and omeprazole. Prescription-strength versions of these PPIs are also available. Additional prescription PPIs include dexlansoprazole, pantoprazole and rabeprazole.

6. Prokinetic agents

Some people experience indigestion because food moves through their digestive system too slowly. When a sluggish digestive system is the cause of chronic upset stomach, healthcare providers may prescribe prokinetic agents, which speed up digestion. These drugs include domperidone and metoclopramide. 

7. Other medications

Depending on the cause of diarrhea and upset stomach, healthcare providers may prescribe other medications, such as: 

  • Antibiotics: A variety of antibiotics are prescribed to treat indigestion caused by H.pylori bacteria and diarrhea due to bacterial infections.
  • Condition-specific medications: When diarrhea or an upset stomach occurs due to a chronic health problem like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), healthcare providers may prescribe medications for the underlying condition.
  • Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications: In rare cases, healthcare providers may prescribe an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication for people with chronic indigestion, as these drugs may change how the brain perceives pain.

Lifestyle changes, natural remedies and self-care

Making changes to your lifestyle and daily habits may help reduce the risk of diarrhea and upset stomach. Following these tips may help:

1. Avoid trigger foods and beverages

Diet is often the cause of occasional upset stomach and diarrhea. Some foods that can trigger symptoms include:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine found in coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks
  • Carbonated beverages, like soda
  • Fatty foods 
  • Greasy foods
  • Spicy foods

Start a food journal where you jot down everything that you eat during the day and make note of what symptoms you experience. You can then use this information to identify trigger foods that you can avoid in the future.

2. Change your meal habits

Changing how you eat can also make an impact on your symptoms. Eat smaller, more frequent meals during the day and avoid eating close to bedtime. When you experience diarrhea, modify your diet, consuming more bland, low-fiber foods that are gentle to the stomach. 

3. Stay hydrated

Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so it’s important to replenish lost fluids. Try to drink a glass of water after each bowel movement and ask your healthcare provider if you should use an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte. 

4. Quit smoking

Smoking can disrupt digestion and increase the risk of upset stomach. Discuss smoking cessation aids with your healthcare provider and make a plan to quit. 

5. Manage stress

Chronic stress and anxiety can contribute to indigestion and diarrhea. Find ways to manage stress in your daily life. Consider activities such as yoga, deep breathing exercises or meditation. Talking to a mental health professional may also be beneficial. 

Identifying the cause of digestive symptoms

If you’re prone to frequent diarrhea and upset stomach, talk to your healthcare provider. They can conduct an examination and order tests to determine what’s causing your symptoms. Once you have a diagnosis, you and your healthcare provider can discuss what medications, lifestyle changes and other interventions can best help you manage your symptoms.

Updated January 2024.

Explore more

4 min
By Robert A. Fried, MD
Jun 30
4 min
By Jenilee Matz, MPH
May 25