Diarrhoea is a health condition that involves the frequent passing of loose or watery stools. It can be caused by several factors including bacteria, viruses, parasites, certain medicines, or food intolerance. Symptoms typically include abdominal cramps, bloating, thirst, and frequent, loose or watery stools. Chronic diarrhea may be a sign of a more serious condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. Dehydration is a significant concern with diarrhoea, especially in children and older adults, so it’s essential to maintain fluid intake. Diarrhoea usually resolves within a few days but if it persists, medical attention should be sought.


Causes of Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea can be caused by several factors. Here are the main ones:

1. Viruses: Some of the most common viruses include rotavirus, norovirus, adenovirus, and astrovirus. Rotavirus is a leading cause of diarrhoea in children.

2. Bacteria: These include Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, and Escherichia coli (E. coli). You can get infected by consuming contaminated water or food.

3. Parasites: Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium can cause diarrhoea. They are often found in contaminated pools or drinking water.

4. Medications: Some drugs, such as antibiotics, can cause diarrhoea. Antibiotics destroy both good and bad bacteria, which can disturb the natural balance of bacteria in your intestines.

5. Lactose Intolerance: People who are lactose intolerant have difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. This can lead to bouts of diarrhoea.

6. Fructose: Some people are allergic to fructose, a sugar found in fruit and honey.

7. Surgery: Some surgeries, particularly those involving the digestive system, can cause diarrhoea.

8. Digestive disorders: Conditions like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other conditions can cause chronic diarrhoea.

9. Stress and anxiety: Emotional stress or anxiety can also trigger diarrhoea in some individuals.

It’s important to rehydrate and seek medical attention if diarrhoea persists, as it can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, or other serious complications.

Risk Factors of Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is a common condition that typically results in loose or liquid bowel movements. It can be caused by various factors and several risk factors can make a person more prone to diarrhoea. These include:

1. Infection: The most common cause of diarrhoea is a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection. Consumption of contaminated water or food, especially while traveling in regions with poor sanitation, significantly increases this risk.

2. Medications: Certain medications, particularly antibiotics, can disrupt the balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut, leading to diarrhoea.

3. Food sensitivities or allergies: Some people have trouble digesting certain types of food, such as dairy products (lactose intolerance), wheat and gluten (gluten intolerance or coeliac disease), or artificial sweeteners, which may cause diarrhoea.

4. Diseases and disorders: Conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and celiac disease often feature diarrhoea as a prominent symptom. Also, people who have undergone bowel surgery or who have digestive disorders like chronic pancreatitis may experience frequent diarrhoea.

5. Age: Young children and the elderly are at heightened risk due to their immune systems that are less equipped to handle infections.

6. Immune system disorders: People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or undergoing treatment for cancer, are more prone to infections that can lead to diarrhoea.

7. Stress or anxiety: Some people may experience diarrhoea during periods of high stress or anxiety.

8. Poor hygiene: This facilitates the spread of the bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause diarrhoea.

Remember, proper hand hygiene, safe food handling, drinking clean water, and getting vaccinated against rotavirus can help prevent diarrhoea. If you’re experiencing severe or persistent diarrhoea, seek medical attention promptly.

Signs and Symptoms of Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is a condition that involves the frequent passing of loose or watery stools. Here are common signs and symptoms associated with diarrhoea:

1. Frequent loose, watery stools: This is the main symptom. Normal bowel movements vary from person to person. However, if you’re going to the toilet more often than usual and your stool is loose or watery, it can be a sign of diarrhoea.

2. Abdominal cramps: Most people with diarrhoea experience abdominal pain or cramping.

3. Bloating: Your abdominal area may feel swollen or ‘full,’ which is known as bloating.

4. Urgency to have a bowel movement: You might have a sudden need to rush to the toilet and you can’t control it.

5. Nausea: You may feel sick to your stomach, or even vomit.

6. Fever: A mild fever can sometimes accompany diarrhoea.

7. Dehydration: Persistent diarrhoea can cause dehydration. Signs include thirst, less frequent urination, dark-coloured urine, dry skin, fatigue, and light-headedness.

In more severe cases, diarrhoea can also cause blood or mucus in your stool, weight loss, and persistent vomiting. In such cases, or if diarrhoea persists more than a few days, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.

Diagnosis Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is a common condition where your bowel movements become loose and watery. It’s a symptom, not a disease, and can be caused by a variety of factors including infections (due to viruses, bacteria, or parasites), dietary changes, stress, food intolerance, and some medications.

Some people may experience occasional bouts of diarrhoea, while others may have chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome that lead to more frequent episodes. While it is usually not serious and often clears up by itself within a few days, persistent or severe diarrhoea can lead to dehydration or may indicate a more serious health issue, such as an infection or inflammatory condition, and should be investigated by a healthcare professional.

Symptoms not just include loose or watery stools, but also an urgent need to go to the toilet, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. In some cases, diarrhoea can be accompanied by fever, an indication of infection. If diarrhoea lasts for several days, it can also result in weight loss and malnutrition.

It’s important to keep hydrated when dealing with diarrhoea, due to the potential for loss of water and electrolytes through the excessive stooling. If symptoms persist, a consultation with a healthcare professional is recommended.

Treatment of Diarrhoea

The treatment for diarrhoea depends on the cause and severity, but in general, the goal of treatment is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Here’s a broad view of how diarrhoea is treated:

1. Fluids and Electrolytes Replacement: The major concern with diarrhoea is the possibility of dehydration due to fluid loss. It’s important to drink plenty of clear fluids such as water, or rehydration solutions available over-the-counter. These rehydration solutions contain water and salts in specific proportions to replenish both fluids and electrolytes.

2. Diet: Many adults with diarrhoea find relief from a diet that consists of specific bland foods, often referred to as the BRAT diet which includes bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. However, the BRAT diet may not be appropriate for everyone, especially children, because it is highly restrictive.


3. Over-the-counter medicines: Anti-diarrheal medications such as loperamide (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) can help slow down diarrhoea and reduce the number of bowel movements.

4. Course of Antibiotics: If diarrhoea is caused by bacteria or parasites, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. However, antibiotics are not usually given for viral diarrhoea as they’re ineffective against viruses.

5. Probiotics: These are microorganisms that can help restore the natural balance of your gut bacteria when it’s been disrupted by an illness or treatment. Several types of probiotics have shown promise for treating diarrhoea.

Please never self-medicate and always consult a health care professional if experiencing symptoms.

Medications commonly used for Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea can often be managed with home remedies such as hydration and diet changes, however, in some instances medication can also be considered to provide relief or treat underlying conditions contributing to diarrhoea. Here are some commonly used medicines:

1. Loperamide (Imodium): This medication helps to slow down bowel movements, making the stool less watery.

2. Bismuth Subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol): It can reduce the frequency of stools and also serves as an antimicrobial agent.

3. Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS): While not directly stopping diarrhoea, ORS such as Pedialyte or Infalyte help in replenishing lost fluids, electrolytes and reducing the risk of dehydration.

4. Rifaximin (Xifaxan): This is an antibiotic that can be used for cases of traveler’s diarrhoea caused by certain bacteria.

5. Eluxadoline (Viberzi): This is prescribed by doctors for irritable bowel syndrome when diarrhoea is the main symptom.

6. Diphenoxylate-atropine (Lomotil): This prescription drug is used for short-term treatment of acute diarrhoea.

Please remember to always consult your healthcare provider before starting any of these medications as they can have side effects and may interact with other medications you are taking. Also, they are not always suitable for all types of diarrhoea. Overuse can lead to serious health consequences including dehydration since they inhibit the body’s natural expulsion of toxins.

Prevention of Diarrhoea

Preventing diarrhea involves taking certain measures to ensure cleanliness and maintain good hygiene. Here are some ways to prevent diarrhea:

1. Wash Your Hands Regularly: It’s important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially after using the toilet, before and after handling food, after handling animals, or after any contact with someone who is ill. Hand sanitizers can be used but they’re not a substitute for soap and water.

2. Food Safety: Make sure to cook food all the way through, keep it refrigerated if needed, and don’t leave it out for long periods of time. Be aware of the risk of foodborne diseases, be careful to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them, and avoid undercooked meats or eggs.

3. Drink Safe Water: Use bottled or filtered water for drinking, making ice cubes, and brushing your teeth if you’re unsure about the local water supply. If you’re traveling to a region where the water supply might be contaminated, consider using a water purifier.

4. Proper Personal Hygiene: Use your own towels, toothbrushes, and eating utensils, and avoid sharing these items with others.

5. Travel Wisely: When travelling, especially in developing countries, be extra cautious about the food and water you consume. Stick to foods that are cooked and served hot, and avoid raw or undercooked meat and seafood.

6. Vaccinate: In some cases, vaccination can help prevent certain types of diarrhea, such as rotavirus diarrhea, which is common in children.

7. Breastfeeding: For infants, breastfeeding can help provide immunity against some causes of diarrhea.

Remember, if you have diarrhea, it’s important to stay hydrated. Diarrhea can cause dehydration, which can be dangerous if not treated. Always consult a healthcare professional if symptoms persist.

FAQ’s about Diarrhoea

1. What is Diarrhoea?
Diarrhoea is a common condition that involves loose or watery stools (poop). It indicates that the digestive system isn’t working properly. Diarrhoea can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term).

2. What Causes Diarrhoea?
Diarrhoea can be caused by a variety of factors, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, certain medicines, food intolerances or sensitivities, diseases that affect the digestive system like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and various others.

3. What are the Symptoms of Diarrhoea?
The most common symptoms are loose, watery stools and abdominal cramps. Other symptoms can include bloating, nausea, urgent need to have a bowel movement, or fever.

4. How is Diarrhoea Diagnosed?
Diarrhoea is typically diagnosed based on the frequency and consistency of stools, as well as other symptoms and a physical examination. Lab tests may be required for more serious cases or if the cause is unknown.

5. What’s the Treatment for Diarrhoea?
Treatment for diarrhoea depends on the cause. For mild cases, resting and staying hydrated may be enough. For bacterial infections, antibiotics may be needed. Treatment for chronic cases often involves managing the underlying issue.

6. Can Diarrhoea be Prevented?
Yes, good hygiene and food safety practices can help prevent diarrhoea. For example, always wash your hands before and after preparing food, after using the toilet, and after changing a baby’s diaper.

7. Is Diarrhoea Dangerous?
While uncomfortable, diarrhoea is typically not harmful. However, it can cause dehydration which can be serious, especially in children, the elderly, or those with a weakened immune system.

8. When Should I Seek Medical Attention?
You should seek medical attention if diarrhoea lasts for more than a few days, is accompanied by a high fever, blood in your stool, severe pain, signs of dehydration, or if it’s accompanied by unexplained weight loss.

9. What Foods Should I Avoid If I Have Diarrhoea?
Fatty foods, dairy, and foods high in fiber could make diarrhoea worse. Likewise, drinks with caffeine or alcohol may also exacerbate the condition.

10. How Can I Rehydrate After Having Diarrhoea?
Drink plenty of fluids such as water, broth, or oral rehydration solutions. Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic drinks as they can worsen dehydration. It’s also important to replace lost electrolytes, which can be done by consuming broths, bananas, sports drinks, and potatoes.

Useful links

Diarrhoea typically refers to frequent, loose, and liquid bowel movements that can be caused by various factors including infections, certain medications, food intolerances and diseases that affect the stomach, small intestine, or colon. It can prove to be a dangerous health concern, especially in young children, if not properly treated, mostly because of dehydration. Therefore, it’s important to consistently hydrate and, if symptoms persist, visit a healthcare provider.

Here are some journals that have useful information on the causes, symptoms, treatments, and other related topics about diarrhoea:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32725734/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21069673/

Remember, while these resources provide useful information, they should not replace the advice of a healthcare professional.

Complications of Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is a condition characterized by the frequent passing of loose or watery stools. This condition can last a few days and usually isn’t serious, but if it persists longer than a week, it could indicate a serious disorder such as a chronic disease.

Complications associated with diarrhoea include:

1. Dehydration: This is the most common and serious concern, especially for children and older adults. Diarrhoea causes a significant loss of water and electrolytes in a very short time, leading to dehydration. Symptoms include excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness.

2. Malabsorption: Chronic diarrhoea could lead to poor absorption of essential nutrients in the body causing malnutrition, weight loss, etc.

3. Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome: If diarrhoea is caused by a certain strain of E. coli, it could lead to this serious condition where red blood cells are destroyed, possibly resulting in kidney failure.

4. IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome): Chronic diarrhoea can also lead to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.

5. Impact on daily life: Diarrhoea can have a severe impact on a person’s daily routine, limiting their activities and inhibiting their quality of life.

6. Bacterial infections: If diarrhoea is caused by a bacterial infection, it might spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

For these reasons, it is essential to treat diarrhoea promptly and ensure adequate hydration and nutrition during recovery. If symptoms persist or become more severe, medical assistance should be sought immediately.

Home remedies of Diarrhoea

Sure, there are several home remedies that can help lessen the symptoms of diarrhoea and speed up recovery. However, always consult your doctor if symptoms persist or worsen.

1. Hydration: Diarrhoea can cause severe dehydration, so it’s important to replace lost fluids. Drink plenty of water, oral rehydration solutions, or clear broths.

2. BRAT Diet: Follow the BRAT diet, which stands for Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. These foods are bland and won’t irritate the stomach, and they can also help absorb excess fluid in the gut, reducing the duration of diarrhoea.

3. Avoid Certain Food: Avoid food and drinks that can exacerbate diarrhoea, such as caffeine, alcohol, and spicy, fried, or fatty foods.

4. Chamomile Tea: Chamomile tea can help reduce intestinal inflammation and aid in soothing the digestive system.

5. Yogurt: The probiotics found in yogurt can help restore a healthy balance to your gut bacteria, which can be disrupted by diarrhoea.

6. Ginger: Known to alleviate food poisoning, ginger can alleviate symptoms like cramps and abdominal pain commonly associated with diarrhoea.

Although these remedies can be helpful, it’s important to remember they should not substitute for medical treatment. If diarrhoea is accompanied by high fever, bloody stools, severe pain or lasts longer than a few days, you need to seek immediate medical attention. It can be a symptom of a more serious disease.

Categorized in:

Infectious Diseases,

Last Update: December 29, 2023