Medically reviewed by Matthew Hamilton, MD

Of all the symptoms, diarrhea stands out as perhaps the biggest challenge for people with IBD. The urgent feeling that you need a bathroom and need it now occurs far too often for most people’s liking—not to mention that it can leave you constantly planning your outings and looking for bathrooms wherever you go. And, of course, there are the downright messy situations that can occur when you just don’t make it to the bathroom in time.

Underlying Causes of Diarrhea

It would seem easy enough to pop an over-the-counter pill to control this unpleasant symptom, or to at least reduce the frequency of times it occurs throughout the day. But this single symptom actually can have many underlying causes, including:

  • Food sensitivities
  • Food intolerances
  • A medication you are taking
  • A bacterial infection like Clostridium difficile (which can result from taking antibiotics)
  • Or the IBD itself acting up in your intestines

As a result, taking antidiarrheal medicines—over-the-counter or prescription—may be a perfectly fine course of treatment in some situations, but a potentially dangerous idea in others.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Be sure to talk to your doctor before you take any antidiarrheal—even an over-the-counter one—since these drugs can simply mask symptoms that should be treated differently. Plus, they can cause serious side effects, such as “toxic megacolon.”

If you and your doctor decide it’s okay for you to take antidiarrheals, don’t forget that these medicines are only controlling your symptoms and not treating IBD itself. That means you still will likely need to be actively treating your ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s.


With more than 4,000 articles to her credit, Tara Baukus Mello’s work has appeared in such publications as Woman’s Day, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and cNet.com, among others.

Medical reviewer and Oshi physician-partner Matthew J. Hamilton, MD is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a specialist in Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Endoscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Crohn’s and Colitis Center in Boston. He is a leading member of the research team at the BWH Crohn’s and Colitis Center, and has garnered national recognition for his research into the underlying inflammatory processes of IBD.

Oshi is a tracking tool and content resource. It does not render medical advice or services, and it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. You should always review this information with your healthcare professionals.