Gastroenterology, General Practice, Primary Care Doctor, Paediatrics (children's doctor)

Diarrhoea

Introduction to Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is a common condition where stools are loose and liquid-like. They may also be passed at a higher frequency than is normal. It can be temporary (like in infection) or more long-standing in a number of conditions (such as inflammatory bowel disease).

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What is Diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is a common condition where stools are loose and liquid like. They may also be passed at a higher frequency than is normal. It can be temporary (like in infection) or more long standing in a number of conditions (such as inflammatory bowel disease).

The commonest cause is an infection called gastroenteritis which can be caused by a virus, bacteria or parasite. It is contracted from contaminated food, water or from other infected people (e.g. via faecal matter contact).

What causes Diarrhoea?

Infection is the main cause of acute diarrhoea. Viruses, bacteria and parasites from contaminated waste, food and/or water can lead to an infection. Severe anxiety, allergies, excessive alcohol consumptions and certain medications (e.g. laxatives) and treatments (e.g. radiotherapy) can also cause diarrhoea.

Persistent diarrhoea needs to be investigated and this is usually done through stool samples and colonoscopies. Chronic diarrhoea is usually down to irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease (crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis), coeliac disease, cancer, diverticular disease or chronic pancreatitis. Alternatively, it could be iatrogenic (caused by a medical intervention, e.g. surgery).

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What are the symptoms of Diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is when stools are looser than normal and may occur more frequently than normal. There are many associated signs and symptoms such as fever, cramps, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and headaches. With severe cases, mucus and blood may feature in the stools.

How is Diarrhoea treated?

Appropriate management of diarrhoea is very important and the biggest threat to life is severe dehydration. Patients should drink as much as they can via small, frequent sips of water. Oral rehydration sachets are useful in replenishing any lost electrolytes, glucose and minerals which are essential for normal functioning and recovery.

Medications can help reduce diarrhoea and loperamide is a commonly used over the counter antidiarrheal (e.g. imodium). Painkillers can help relieve any features of an infection that may be present. If the cause is known (e.g. stool culture), the doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection.

Treatment is generally done at home and hospital admission is only warranted in severe dehydration (for IV fluids), exacerbations of chronic conditions and serious infections.

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