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Diarrhoea - Practical Advice
Diarrhoea is a very common problem, which normally has few serious side effects.
Diarrhoea can affect adults and children, and is medically defined as passing loose or watery faeces three times a day or more.
Diarrhoea can be brought on by anxiety or stress, drinking too much coffee or alcohol, or as the result of a virus, food poisoning, or parasite.
Diarrhoea symptoms can vary. The common theme is a frequent urge to use the toilet, but the severity can differ from a mild day-long bout of tummy upset, to full on stomach pain, cramps, a high temperature and nausea.
In most cases, the symptoms should pass within a few days, with no long term effects.
However, excessive diarrhoea can also lead to dehydration, which may cause symptoms to worsen, and cause irritability, dizziness and cramps.
If a child has diarrhoea, you should seek medical advice if they suffer six or more episodes in 24 hours, are vomiting at the same time, have blood in their faeces, or if the diarrhoea has lasted longer than two weeks.
Adults should contact a GP if the diarrhoea lasts more than a week, has blood in it, is disturbing sleep patterns or causes unexplained weight loss.
Practical Diarrhoea Treatments
Diarrhoea will normally disappear within a few days, as the body fights off infection.
However, the timing of diarrhoea may mean you seek out a treatment to allow you to get on with your day uninterrupted.
It's worth drinking plenty of fluids to lessen your risk of dehydration. Try to avoid coffee, fruit juice and fizzy drinks. Instead, stick to glasses of water.
They won't cure diarrhoea, but oral rehydration solutions are available to help prevent dehydration. This is especially important for those aged over 60, the frail, or those with existing medical conditions. These solutions usually come in sachets, which can be added to water and drunk.
Anti-diarrhoeal medicines are also available, many of which can be bought from a pharmacy without a prescription but these should not be given to children. Diarrhoea tablets can help alleviate the urge to go to the toilet by helping to slow gut muscle movements.
Always read the information leaflet that comes with the medication and check with your pharmacist if you are unsure about the treatment.
Even if you don't feel like eating, you should try to as soon as you feel able. Be sure to avoid spicy, fatty foods - instead try light meals or snacks.
When diarrhoea goes on for a long time, the most likely cause is irritable bowel syndrome. This means that the bowel produces stools, which are looser or more frequent than normal, although the bowel is not diseased.
What is IBS? Symptoms of this condition are abdominal pain and bloating, plus diarrhoea and/or constipation.