What is Diarrhoea?
Waste in our body is pushed to the large intestine where water is absorbed from it, resulting in firm, moist and easy to pass faeces. However with diarrhoea stools are loose, watery and unformed, and are passed more frequently than normal. It is a commonly experienced condition, affecting people from time to time. While it can be quite distressing and unplesant it is usually nothing serious to worry about.
Diarrhoea can be acute, lasting for a few days and passing on its own, or it could be chronic, lasting more than two weeks and requiring medical care to treat its symptoms and underlying causes.
Diarrhoea is most commonly caused due to infection of the intestines, which hinders the absorption of water. Chronic diarrhoea usually comes about due to a range of conditions that may affect the intestines.
Passing frequent loose, watery stools in the primary symptoms of having diarrhoea. Other associated symptoms vary from person to person depending on the cause. These include;
- Stomach cramp
- Urgency to pass stool
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- A rapid heartbeat
While most people experience acute diarrhoeal symptoms, which usually self-resolve, one might experience more serious symptoms requiring attention, such as;
- Blood or pus in the faeces
- Reduced or absent urination
- Temperature higher than 38c
These symptoms might indicate more serious underlying conditions such as kidney or heart failure.
Diarrhoea occurs when fluid is not absorbed from the waste in your bowel, or when extra fluid is secreted into the large intestine, causing watery stools.
Acute diarrhoea is usually caused due to an infection in the intestine (gastroenteritis), which can be caused by;
- A virus – norovirus or rotavirus
- Bacteria – campylobacter, Escherichia coli, salmonella etc. which cause food poisoning.
- Parasites – giardia intestinalis parasite
The length of time that diarrhoea lasts depends on what causes the infection, a viral infection may only last 2 days, while a parasite infection may last up to several weeks.
Numerous other non-infectious conditions may also cause diarrhoea, including;
- Inability to digest certain foods, such as lactose, gluten etc.
- Excessive alcohol
- Hormonal diseases such as thyroid disease, diabetes etc.
- Damage to the intestines due to radiotherapy
- Side effects of certain medications, such as antibiotics, antacids, statins, laxatives etc.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disorder
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Bowel cancer
If your symptoms persist and cause severe pain or discomfort, it is advisable to attain a diagnosis from your GP. He may ask about the nature of your stools, how often you go to the toilet, nature and severity of your symptoms and any medication you might be taking at the time.
To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor may carry out some investigations, such as;
Stool SampleTo look for infection, if you have persistent diarrhoea, blood or pus in your stool, or if you have recently travelled abroad.
Blood TestsTo test for signs of inflammation
ColonoscopyIf required, a colonoscopy might be carried out, where a flexible tube with a small camera and light on one end is inserted inside to examine the entire bowel.
Diarrhoea usually self-resolves without requiring any treatment, when it is caused by an infection.
You can ease your symptoms by ensuring enough fluid and oral rehydratino solution intake to avoid dehydration, eating small light meals and resting.
We can prescribe antidiarrhoeal medicines to reduce the symptoms and shorten its duration. It works by slowing down the muscle movements in your bowel so more water might be absorbed from your stools, making it firmer and pass less frequently. This includes Loperamide.