Acute uncomplicated diarrhoea is commonly treated by self-medication. Guidelines for treatment exist, but are inconsistent, sometimes contradictory, and often owe more to dogma than evidence. An ad hoc multidisciplinary group has reviewed the literature to determine best practice. In general it is recognized that treatment of acute episodes relieves discomfort and social dysfunction. There is no evidence that it prolongs the illness. Self-medication in otherwise healthy adults is safe. Oral loperamide is the treatment of choice. Older anti-diarrhoeal drugs are also effective in the relief of symptoms but carry the risk of unwanted adverse effects. Oral rehydration solutions do not relieve diarrhoea, and confer no added benefit for adults who can maintain their fluid intake. Probiotic agents are, at present, limited in efficacy and availability. Antimicrobial drugs, available without prescription in some countries, are not generally appropriate for self-medication, except for travellers on the basis of medical advice prior to departure. Medical intervention is recommended for the management of acute diarrhoea in the frail, the elderly (> 75 years), persons with concurrent chronic disease, and children. Medical intervention is also required when there is no abatement of the symptoms after 48 h, or when there is evidence of deterioration such as dehydration, abdominal distension, or the onset of dysentery (pyrexia > 38.5 degrees C and/or bloody stools).