Diarrhoea is passing looser or more frequent stools than is normal for you.

It affects most people from time to time and is usually nothing to worry about. However, it can be distressing and unpleasant until it passes, which normally takes a few days to a week.

What causes diarrhoea?

There are many different causes of diarrhoea, but a bowel infection (gastroenteritis) is a common cause in both adults and children.

Gastroenteritis can be caused by:

  • A virus – such as a norovirus or rotavirus
  • Bacteria – such as Campylobacter and Escherichia coli (E. coli), which are often picked up from contaminated food
  • A parasite – such as the parasite that causes giardiasis, which is spread in contaminated water

These infections can sometimes be caught during travel abroad, particularly to areas with poor standards of public hygiene. This is known as travellers' diarrhoea.

Diarrhoea can also be the result of anxiety, a food allergy, medication or a long-term condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

What to do if you have diarrhoea

Most cases of diarrhoea clear up after a few days without treatment, and you may not need to see your GP or CarePlus Pharmacist.

However, diarrhoea can lead to dehydration, so you should drink plenty of fluids (small, frequent sips of water) until it passes. It is very important that babies and small children do not become dehydrated.

Your CarePlus Pharmacist may suggest that you use an oral rehydration solution (ORS) if you or your child are particularly at risk of dehydration.

You should eat solid food as soon as you feel able to. If you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby and they have diarrhoea, you should try to feed them as normal.

Stay at home until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea, to prevent spreading any infection to others.

Medication to reduce diarrhoea, such as loperamide, are available.

When to see your GP?

Contact your GP if you are concerned about yourself or your child. It is important to see your GP if the diarrhoea is particularly frequent or severe, or is associated with other symptoms, such as:

  • Blood in your or your child's poo
  • Persistent vomiting
  • A severe or continuous stomach ache
  • Weight loss
  • Signs of dehydration – including drowsiness, passing urine infrequently and feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Your poo is dark or black – this may be a sign of bleeding inside your stomach

You should also contact your GP if your or your child's diarrhoea is particularly persistent, as this may be a sign of a more serious problem. In most cases, diarrhoea should pass within about a week.

Preventing diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is often caused by an infection. You can reduce your risk by making sure you maintain high standards of hygiene.

For example, you should

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after going to the toilet and before eating or preparing food
  • Clean the toilet, including the handle and the seat, with disinfectant after each bout of diarrhoea
  • Avoid sharing towels, flannels, cutlery or utensils with other household members

It's also important to practise good food and water hygiene while travelling abroad, such as avoiding potentially unsafe tap water and undercooked food.

Please call into your local CarePlus pharmacy if you need advice relating to diarrhoea.