There are few things worse than having an upset stomach and diarrhea. This condition can completely throw off your day, keeping you tied to your toilet and limiting the foods and drinks you can enjoy. Understanding what causes these symptoms to arise and how to treat them effectively can dramatically cut down the time and effort you spend dealing with them.
An upset stomach, also known as indigestion, is a general term used to describe discomfort or pain felt in the upper abdomen. Some common symptoms associated with an upset stomach are:
Burning Sensation (h eartburn)
Headache or body aches
An upset stomach is usually followed by diarrhea, which is loose, watery, and, potentially, more-frequent bowel movements. Symptoms associated with diarrhea may include:
Blood in the stool
Mucus in the stool
Sudden need to have a bowel movement
Remedies and Treatments for Upset Stomach and Diarrhea
Upset Stomach Remedies
Most stomach ailments can be treated at home. As soon as you start feeling sick, begin limiting your diet to clear liquids in frequent, small amounts. Make sure to drink enough fluids to keep your urine clear or a pale yellow.
If you’re not able to keep liquids down and begin to vomit, start with sips of water or sucking on ice chips. Once you are able to keep that down, try other fluids like:
Clear soup broth or bouillon
Clear soft-drinks like 7-Up, Sprite, or Ginger Ale
Juices like apple, grape, cherry, or cranberry (make sure to avoid citrus juices)
Once you are able to keep all liquids down, try some solid foods along with the liquids. Good foods to try are:
It may take several days to one week to regain your appetite, energy level, and for your bowels to regain normalcy.
Most cases of diarrhea clear on their own within a couple of days without treatment. If you've tried lifestyle changes and home remedies for an upset stomach and diarrhea without success, your doctor might recommend the following:
Antibiotics might help treat diarrhea caused by bacteria or parasites. If a virus is causing your diarrhea, antibiotics won't help. Alternatively, if your doctor determines that antibiotics are what’s causing your diarrhea, they will likely lower the dose or switch to another medication.
While water is an effective method to replace fluids, it doesn't contain the salts and electrolytes that are essential for your body to function. Drinking liquids that have these essential minerals like sodium and potassium can increase your speed of recovery from diarrhea.
Treatment to Replace Fluids
Your body loses a lot of water when you have diarrhea. Your doctor will likely recommend a steady regimen to ensure you are replacing the fluids and salts your body has lost. This usually means drinking plenty of water, juices, and broth. If drinking liquids upsets your stomach or causes vomiting, your doctor might recommend getting IV fluids.
Treating underlying conditions.
Your diarrhea might be caused by a more serious condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease. If your doctor determines this to be the case, you might be referred to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist, who can help devise a treatment plan for you.
Upset Stomach and Diarrhea Prevention
One of the best things you can do to avoid an upset stomach and diarrhea is to avoid certain foods that are known to cause them.
Fatty or greasy foods
Non-cultured dairy products (i.e. milk, cheese, ice cream)
Additional prevention measures you should take to avoid an upset stomach are:
Wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom
Wash your hands with soap and water before and after eating or handling food
Do not share eating or drinking utensils with others
Avoid milk, cheese, or egg-based foods that have not been refrigerated
Handle uncooked meat or poultry carefully — wash hands, utensils, and work surfaces well after preparing, especially before handling other foods
When to See a Doctor
An upset stomach and diarrhea are usually nothing to worry about. Consult your doctor if the symptoms don’t go away after two days or if they begin to get worse in that time. Additionally, consult your doctor if you experience any of the following:
You feel dehydrated, including feeling excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness
You have severe abdominal or rectal pain
You have bloody or black stools
You have a fever of more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
Remedies for Children
In children, particularly young children, diarrhea should be taken seriously as it can quickly lead to dehydration and, possibly, death. One out of nine child deaths are due to diarrhea, and it is the second leading cause of death in children under five years of age. You should call your doctor if your child's diarrhea doesn't improve within 24 hours or if they:
Haven’t had a wet diaper in three or more hours
Have a fever of more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
Have bloody or black stools
Have a dry mouth or tongue, or if they cry without tears
Are unusually sleepy, drowsy, unresponsive, or irritable
Have a sunken appearance to their abdomen, eyes, or cheeks
Have skin that doesn't flatten if pinched and released
Ask your doctor about using an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte, to prevent dehydration or replace lost fluids.
Almost ten percent of all visits to the emergency room are stomach-related. You should call your doctor immediately if the pains in your stomach are so severe that you can't move, sit still, or find a comfortable position that doesn’t cause additional pain.
Seek immediate medical help if the pain becomes severe or is accompanied by other symptoms like:
Persistent nausea and vomiting
Skin that appears yellow
Severe tenderness when you touch your abdomen
Swelling of the abdomen
Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors
Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 20, 2020