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Before you take a probiotic for a digestive problem, talk to your doctor about its benefits and risks. Here’s what to ask.

1. Would probiotics help me?

Probiotics may work for some conditions but not others. Some studies show that they can help infectious diarrhea, colitis caused by the bacteria C. difficile, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea caused by antibiotics. They may also help Crohn's disease, but the evidence is not strong.

Your doctor will be able to tell you if a probiotic is a good option for your specific problem.

2. What are the benefits of probiotics?

Probiotics aren’t a cure-all. In some cases, they may be better for preventing a disease, while others may only help after you’re sick. Tell your doctor about your symptoms and see what she recommends.

3. Are there risks?

Probiotics are generally safe. But for young children, older people, those with serious illnesses, and people with weak immune systems, they may pose dangers. If you decide to take them, make sure to tell your doctor.

4. Which probiotics are best for my condition?

There are many different probiotics. Some have just one helpful type of bacteria. Other products have a mixture. But scientists have studied only a small number of them.

If you decide to take a probiotic, it’s important to use one that has evidence that it works. Talk to your doctor about which ones show promise for your condition.

5. What’s the best way to take a probiotic?

Probiotics come in many forms: capsules, powders, liquids, and foods like yogurt and dairy drinks. Your doctor may recommend a specific product that scientists have tested and found to be effective for your condition.

6. How much should I take?

To work well, probiotics must have enough good bacteria to allow them to grow in your intestines. The right dose is a lot different for each probiotic product, however. And some may not have as many helpful microbes as their labels say. Ask your doctor if she knows which products and how much of them are helpful.

7. How long should I use probiotics?

That depends on the reason you’re taking them. Foods that naturally have probiotics, like yogurt, can be a regular part of your healthy diet. The effects of supplements last for just a few weeks after you stop taking them. If your doctor has prescribed them for you, follow her instructions for taking them. Otherwise, you’ll need to take them as long as you want to feel their benefits.  

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