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Diarrhoea is the passage of watery stools.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
The key symptom of diarrhoea is frequent bouts of loose, watery stools. This may be accompanied by:
  • stomach cramps
  • stomach pain
  • nausea and vomiting
A person should call a doctor right away if there is:
  • blood in the stool
  • frequent vomiting
  • increasing stomach pain
  • little or no urine
  • a high fever
  • foul-smelling diarrhoea that contains pus
What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
Viruses cause most episodes of diarrhoea. When children get these viral infections, they can have severe bouts of diarrhoea.

Diarrhoea may also be caused by:
  • a bacterial infection or toxins
  • a blockage in the lower intestines
  • other intestinal injuries and problems
  • diet
  • certain medications
  • hormonal excess
  • parasites
Some people get diarrhoea often. A traveller who has developed persistent diarrhoea should call his or her doctor for advice.

What can be done to prevent the condition? 
Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water is the best way to prevent diarrhoea. This is especially important if a person has been exposed to anyone who has diarrhoea or has used a public restroom.

It is often hard to prevent diarrhoea in children who attend daycare. However, frequent hand washing at the daycare centre may reduce the risks of diarrhoea.

To help prevent travellers' diarrhoea it is recommended that individuals avoid drinking contaminated water, including ice, and food. They should also avoid uncooked vegetables or fresh salads that may be contaminated with bacteria.

How is the condition diagnosed? 
Usually diagnosis relies on a person's report of his or her symptoms. If there is severe pain or blood in the stool, a doctor will generally examine the area around the stomach. X-rays may be taken. Occasionally, a scope is used to look inside a portion of the gastrointestinal tract.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
Dehydration is common in people with severe diarrhoea. That is why getting plenty of fluids is very important in treating diarrhoea.

People who have diarrhoea should try to keep eating their normal diet. Adults and children should have regular meals three times a day. It is important that infants continue to drink formula or milk. There are oral electrolyte solutions, like gastrolyte, that replace lost minerals in infants with diarrhoea.

Adults may also be helped by over-the-counter drugs, such as:
  • loperamide
  • bismuth subsalicylate
These drugs should be used only for a short while. A person should call his or her doctor if diarrhoea lasts for more than 2 to 3 days.

If diarrhoea leads to dehydration, intravenous fluids may be given through a tube in a vein in the hand or arm.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
Some people find that over-the-counter drugs for diarrhoea may cause:
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • nausea
  • sleepiness
What happens after treatment for the condition? 
Diarrhoea usually ends in 2 to 3 days, if not sooner. Generally, a few days of diarrhoea are not a cause for concern.

However, a doctor should be consulted if a person:
  • has diarrhoea for more than 2 to 3 days
  • feels worsening abdominal pain
  • has blood in the stool
  • has abdominal bloating
  • has worsening nausea or vomiting
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 27/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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