What is diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is the passing of liquid or loose stools (poo) with increased frequency of need to open the bowels.  This may also be associated with increased amount of stool passed.  Diarrhoea is not a diagnosis but is a symptom of a problem.

It is extremely common with the average adult in the UK suffering from diarrhoea at least once in any year.

Where this has been a problem for less than 4 weeks we call it acute diarrhoea.  Where it been a problem for 4 week or more we call it chronic diarrhoea.


What does it feel like?

Diarrhoea is often accompanied by a cramp like feeling in the bottom left of the tummy before the need to pass stool.  This is often eased after passing stool.

The passage of large amounts of stool can lead the sufferer to feel weak and wash out as fluid and nutrients are washed from the body in the stool.  If this is allowed to happen for a long period of time the sufferer might also be seen to lose weight.

Other feelings associated with diarrhoea are usually caused by the underlying condition.  

For example, where the diarrhoea is caused by an infection it might also be associated with the feeling of aches and a fever.  When associated with an underlying inflammatory bowel disorder passage of mucus and blood is common.


How did I get it?

There are very many causes of diarrhoea and no list here would ever be exhaustive.  

The commonest cause that we see here at The Oakwood Surgery is from infections such as what you might see with gastroenteritis or travellers diarrhoea.  

We also see diarrhoea associated with anxiety, diverticular disease and food intolerance quite a lot.

Less commonly we see diarrhoea associated with inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease and cancer.


How long will it last?

That depends upon the cause of the diarrhoea.

Where this has been a problem for less than 4 weeks we call it acute diarrhoea.  Where it been a problem for 4 week or more we call it chronic diarrhoea.

If the diarrhoea is persisting for 2 week or more we may request you to provide a stool sample so that we can send this to the hospital laboratory to look for infections.  We may also request blood tests to help us look for the underlying cause.


Do I need any treatment?

Again, that depends upon the cause of the diarrhoea.

Where the diarrhoea is thought to be due to a recent minor infection we may offer you medicines to help ease your symptoms.  

Examples include loperamide to help firm up your stools or diorolyte to help you replenish the salts and energy that you have lost.  Both of these can be bought over the counter without a prescription.

In all cases of diarrhoea, it is important to stay well hydrated by drinking lots.  

Where you are taking lots of different prescribed medicines we may ask you to stop some until you are feeling a little better, especially where these medicines affect the kidney function.


Is this dangerous?

Most cases of diarrhoea are mild and self limiting.

However there are some more serious causes of diarrhoea that need to be considered.

When we speak to you about your diarrhoea, we will be particularly interested to hear about –

  • Tummy pain- especially pain which causes you to wake at night
  • Weight loss
  • Recent blood in the stool
  • A recent change in bowel habit for the last 6 weeks or more
  • Recent hospital stay
  • Recent use of antibiotics
  • Recent travel
  • Age 50 or over

In some cases we may need to examine you to help understand the cause of your diarrhoea or to assess the severity of your illness.  This will usually mean a gentle feel of your tummy.  In some cases, we may ask to examine your bottom to look for blood or abnormal swellings.