Occasional bouts of diarrhoea (diarrhea) are a fact of life – we have all experienced them. This section is for teenagers and adults with sudden-onset diarrhoea that lasts for less than 4 weeks. Diarrhoea in a child, especially in a baby, can be serious so your doctor should be consulted.
What you can do to help yourself
Increase your fluid intake. It is important not to become dehydrated, so keep up your fluid intake with fruit juices and soups. If you have a lot of diarrhoea it might be a good idea to take a solution of oral rehydration salts (such as Dioralyte or Boots Rehydration Treatment). This is because when you have diarrhoea you lose salts (particularly potassium) as well as water, and rehydration products can make up the salts you have lost. You can buy oral rehydration salts from pharmacies; ask your pharmacist for advice.
Take probiotic drinks or yoghurts. Probiotics (‘friendly’ bacteria) can help. They will not cure the diarrhoea, but will shorten the duration of illness by an average of about 25 hours. You can buy probiotic drinks and yoghurts from supermarkets, and as supplements from pharmacies and health food stores. Lactobacillus casei (in Actimel and Yakult) and Saccharomyces boulardii (in Optibac) are the commonest.
When you should see your doctor
- If you have had diarrhoea for more than 48 hours.
- If there is blood or pus mixed in with the diarrhoea.
- If you have a temperature (fever).
- If you are feeling very unwell.
- If the diarrhoea is extremely profuse.
- When you have another illness (such as diabetes) and/or you are taking medication. If you have severe diarrhoea your medication may not be absorbed properly and some medications (e.g. for Parkinson’s disease) need to be finely tuned.
- If you have recently been in a tropical country. You need to tell your doctor where you have been in case you have picked up an unusual infection that needs special investigation.
Causes of short-term diarrhoea
‘Food poisoning’ can mean eating something that disagrees with you (such as a very spicy meal if you are not used to spices), but it can also mean infection with various bacteria from the food. Crabs and shell-fish are well-known sources. Thinking about what you have eaten over the past 48 hours may pin-point the problem. Food poisoning usually causes vomiting, but diarrhoea may follow. Tummy pain is common.
Giardia (pronounced gee-ard-ee-a) is a tiny parasite that can cause chronic, long-term diarrhoea, but it also can cause short bouts of diarrhoea, often with bloating and weight loss. It is common in tropical countries, but occurs worldwide.
What to do if the diarrhoea doesn’t go away completely
Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Friday, March 8th 2013
Useful contacts for Diarrhoea (acute/short-term)
Click to see all the contacts that you may find useful in relation to acute diarrhoea
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