It’s been experienced by many and can lead to the most embarrassing of outcomes. A bout of diarrhoea can make you feel like you are sitting on a ticking time bomb, waiting for that unfortunate episode. Diarrhoea is often the centre of many jokes, BUT when do we need to take it seriously?

You’ll know it is diarrhoea when you pass loose, watery stool more than three times a day. It may also be accompanied with other symptoms such as, cramping, abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, fever or vomiting.

Diarrhoea is classified based on the duration of symptoms.

ACUTE DIARRHOEA (lasts only a short period of time)

What are the causes of Acute Diarrhoea?

Almost everyone has had an episode of diarrhoea at some stage of their life. Acute diarrhoea is often a symptom of infection and usually spontaneously resolves over 2-5 days. Sometimes, stress or anxiety can induce diarrhoea, like before an exam, but is short-lived.

A consultation with your doctor is recommended if you feel unwell, are unable to tolerate food and fluids, have bleeding from the back passage or have a high fever.

Another cause is food poisoning, symptoms will usually only last 24-48 hours if this is the case.

CHRONIC DIARRHOEA (persistent over a longer period of time)

What are the causes of Chronic Diarrhoea?

There are many causes of chronic diarrhoea. They may include:

  • – Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • – Coeliac Disease
  • – Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD -Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s disease)
  • – Infections – e.g. Giardia, cryptosporidium.
  • – Food intolerances – eg. fructose, lactose, sorbitol etc.
  • – Medications – e.g. Reflux medications, some antidepressants

A consultation with your doctor is recommended if you have chronic diarrhoea, particularly if the following features are also present:

  • – Loss of weight
  • – Bleeding from the back passage
  • – Family history of bowel cancer
  • – Fever

Your doctor will likely organise some tests to find out the cause of your chronic diarrhoea.

What tests may be performed to evaluate Chronic Diarrhoea?

A range of tests may be important to find the underlying cause of chronic diarrhoea including: blood tests, stool tests, X rays, hydrogen breath tests, or Gastroscopy and/or Colonoscopy.

Your GP can arrange many of these investigations, but may refer you to a GastroNorth specialist if the cause is not apparent or a gastroscopy/colonoscopy is required.

What is the treatment for Chronic Diarrhoea?

Whilst anti-diarrhoeal medications (e.g. Gastrostop, Imodium, Lomotil) may improve the symptoms it remains important to treat the underlying cause as identified by investigations.

If you are experiencing chronic diarrhoea it is really important that you see your doctor. If the cause is an infection, this can be treated. If the cause is a certain medication or food intolerance, there may be other substitutes. If the cause is a condition like IBS, Coeliac Disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, you will need a management plan to minimise your symptoms and to maintain overall great health.

Diarrhoea is not fun for anyone. Don’t be too embarrassed to talk about it.