When diarrhoea strikes, you are most likely to treat related symptoms rather than the diarrhoea itself. This is because when it is caused by an infection of some kind, diarrhoea will usually clear after a few days because your body will begin to fight it. If this doesn’t occur, it’s time to contact your GP.
The most common symptoms of diarrhoea are increased frequency in passing waste with stools that look loose and watery. You may feel bloated, suffer loss of appetite or have very sudden urges to empty your bowels. If you notice any blood in your stools or around the rectum, or your symptoms are coupled with a fever, you should seek medical advice immediately.
Stopping the spread of diarrhoea
Aside from the inconvenience, diarrhoea can leave you feeling tired and drained but it’s important to remain vigilant about hygiene to stop it from spreading. You should disinfect the toilet handle after each use and avoid sharing items like towel and cutlery too. If your baby has diarrhoea and you are breastfeeding, there is no need to stop, however, if you yourself are suffering symptoms you should contact your GP. You may remain contagious even after your own symptoms have stopped, so it is advised that you or children suffering with the condition stay at home until 48 hours after the problem has stopped.
It’s also worth remembering that constipation in young people and babies can sometimes be misinterpreted as diarrhoea.
Causes of diarrhoea
Acute diarrhoea – will usually clear in 4-7 days and is often caused by infection – either a virus, bacterium or parasite. An example of this is the noro virus, which often lasts around 48 hours. Medication including antibiotics can also cause diarrhoea symptoms – if you suspect this could be the case do speak to your pharmacist or GP.
Hydration and medication
It’s very important to stay hydrated while suffering diarrhoea, even more so for the elderly and very young. As diarrhoea is often coupled with vomiting it may be difficult to keep water down but you should try to sip small quantities frequently. Advice about eating varies - you may have little to no appetite. Those who are exhibiting symptoms of dehydration should consult a medical professional and should avoid tackling solid foods without being correctly hydrated. Eating some soup such as a broth can help to replenish sodium levels and help you to hydrate. It is commonly advised to avoid greasy or spicy foods and oral rehydration solutions – usually in the form of sachets that include glucose, salt and potassium, may be recommended to help you stay hydrated and replenish lost minerals.
You may also be advised to take loperamide or racecadotril medication. The former slows down the movement of waste through the gut, helping more water to be absorbed. The latter reduces the amount of water produced by the large intestine. Both therefore work to reduce the watery consistency of waste associated with diarrhoea episodes. Some diarrhoea medication can be purchased without a prescription but is not suitable for everyone to take – so as with all medicines, be sure to read any leaflets or other instructions carefully and ask your pharmacist if you are unsure of anything. If you have other symptoms such as a headache you may wish to take paracetamol, in some circumstances you may also be able to take ibuprofen, though it should be remembered that you should not take it on an empty stomach.
For further information please visit our Diarrhoea Advice Centre page. If symptoms persist – you will need to visit your GP who will ask questions you may find embarrassing in order to recommend treatment. It’s important that you answer these open and honestly so that the cause can be correctly ascertained.