What is Diarrhoea?

HealthNutritionOnline Back-to-Directory A health article about Diarrhoea fromYour Health Online the A to Z directory of dealing with Health Problems & nutritional Self Care Strategies

While it is not usually a very serious condition and will generally clear up within a few days Diarrhoea is at the lease a very inconvenient condition and at worse can be life threatening.

It is a condition in which a person has frequent watery, loose bowel movements. This condition can occur as a symptom, disease, allergy, food intolerance or food borne illness and may be accompanied by abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.

It is most commonly caused by viral infections or bacterial toxins. There are other conditions which involve some but not all of the symptoms of diarrhoea, so you should check with your doctor if it persists.

A healthy person will normally recover in a few days, but for many people, and especially infants and children, it can lead to severe dehydration and can become life-threatening without treatment. If diarrhea persists, you become dehydrated or you pass blood in your stool, see your doctor.

Signs & Symptoms


Serious Diarrhoea results is bowel movements around Type 7 on the Bristol Stool Chart.

The symptoms of diarrhoea include:

• Abdominal cramps
• Abdominal pains
• Urgency to go to the toilet
• Frequent passing of loose, watery faeces
• Nausea
• Vomiting.

Serious symptoms

In most cases, acute diarrhoea is self-limiting and will resolve by itself within a day or two.

However, contact your doctor immediately if you experience serious symptoms including:

• Blood in the faeces
• Pus in the faeces
• Painful passage of faeces
• Repeated vomiting
• Inability to increase fluid intake
• Reduced or absent urination
• Fever (temperature greater than 38ºC).

What Causes Diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea may have many different causes including:

• a change in diet,
• food intolerance (e.g. lactose),
• inflammatory bowel disorder,
• medications (e.g. antibiotics, magnesium-containing antacids),
• a bacterial infection (food poisoning) or
• a viral infection (e.g. rotavirus in children).

Common causes of serious diarrhea include:

Viruses. Common viruses that cause diarrhea are the Norwalk virus, cytomegalovirus, viral hepatitis and the herpes simplex virus. Rotavirus is the most common cause of acute childhood diarrhea. Viral diarrhea spreads easily.

Bacteria and parasites. Contaminated food or water can transmit bacteria and parasites to your body. Parasites such as Giardia lamblia and cryptosporidium can cause diarrhea. Common bacterial causes of diarrhea include campylobacter, salmonella, shigella and Escherichia coli. This type of diarrhea can be common for people traveling to developing countries.

Diarrhoea in very young children is often caused by rotavirus. There is now a vaccine available that can prevent gastroenteritis (or reduce the risk of severe gastroenteritis) caused by rotavirus infection.

Diarrhoea may also be caused by diet, for example, too much fruit or fruit juice. People with diarrhoea, especially the very young and the very elderly, are at risk of becoming rapidly dehydrated. This requires immediate medical attention.


The basic rules of hygiene are essentially in place to avoid contamination from environmental factors and contamination of food.

• Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap before eating or handling food.
• Wash your hands thoroughly with soap after using the toilet.
• Store food in the correct environment (do not leave food that needs refrigeration out of the fridge.)
• Take care not to cross contaminate raw food when cooking with food already prepared.
• If you have food intolerances then you will already be reading labels to avoid problem foods and additives.

If you are planning to travel here is a list of health advice for travelers published by the Gastroenterological Society of Australia (GESA) (Source: http://www.gesa.org.au/leaflets/travellers-diarrhoea.cfm) that is a clear, simple summary of ways to avoid diarrhoea when traveling.

Plan to avoid travellers' diarrhoea

There are steps you can take to follow which minimise the risk of diarrhoea:

• Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap before eating or handling food and after using the toilet.
• Never drink tap water unless it is boiled or purified first
• Keep to bottled water - or other prepackaged drinks e.g. bottles or cans of soft drink - and hot drinks such as tea and coffee. Sometimes the jugs of water provided (and regularly refilled) by the more up-market hotels will be suitable.
• Always peel fruit (or wash it thoroughly in purified water).
• Choose restaurants where the staff, surroundings and food appear clean.
• Choose restaurants where there are plenty of people eating, as news of a source of illness usually results in less patronage.
• Remember to brush your teeth using purified or bottled water.
• Ask for lukewarm food to be replaced with fresh, hot food.
• Refuse ice in drinks.
• Avoid salads.
• Never eat raw seafood.

When to seek Medical Advice:

If diarrhea persists beyond five days or if you become dehydrated — as evidenced by excessive thirst, dry mouth or skin, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness, or dark-colored urine — see your doctor. Also get medical help if you have severe abdominal or rectal pain, bloody or black stools, a temperature of more than 101 F, or signs of dehydration despite drinking plenty of liquids.

In young children, diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration. Call your doctor if diarrhea persists for more than 24 to 48 hours or if your baby:

• Hasn't had a wet diaper in three or more hours
• Has a high fever
• Has bloody or black stools
• Has a dry mouth or cries without tears
• Is unusually sleepy, drowsy, unresponsive or irritable
• Has a sunken appearance to the abdomen, eyes or cheeks
• Has skin that doesn't flatten if pinched and released
(This advice is from the Mayo Clinic - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diarrhea/DS00292/DSECTION=4 )


If you have diarrhoea you should:

• not drink flat lemonade or other soft drinks, as the high glucose content may draw fluid into the gut, causing more diarrhoea;
• restrict food intake for 24 hours (for children, give only clear fluids such as electrolyte replacement fluid or water);
• eat only bland, dry foods after 24 hours, avoiding grains and uncooked fruit and vegetables;
• restrict fats and dairy food for 48 hours; and
• watch for signs of dehydration, especially in children and the elderly.

Some children may experience lactose intolerance (inability to digest milk sugars) for some time after the diarrhoea has settled. If this is the case, you should re-introduce milk products gradually.

If your doctor determines that an antibiotic medication caused your diarrhea, you'll need to stop taking that medication and modify your treatment plan.

If a parasitic infection caused your diarrhea, prescription antibiotics may ease your symptoms. Antibiotics sometimes, but not always, help ease signs and symptoms of bacterial diarrhea. However, antibiotics won't help viral diarrhea.

Self Care strategies for Living with Diarrhoea

It is believed that an effective remedy for diarrhoea is the use of buttermilk.

It helps overcome harmful intestinal flora and re-establish the benign or friendly flora. The acid in the buttermilk also fights germs and bacteria.

It may be taken and mixed with a pinch of salt three or four times a day controlling diarrhoea.

Carrot soup is another effective home remedy for diarrhoea. It supplies water to combat dehydration, replenishes sodium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, sulphur and magnesium, supplies pectin and coats the intestine to allay inflammation. It checks the growth of harmful intestinal bacteria and prevents vomiting. One pound of carrot may be cooked in five ounces of water until it is soft. The pulp should be strained and boiled water added to make a quart.

Three-quarter tablespoon of salt may be mixed. This soup should be given in small amounts to the patient every half an hour.

Diet change strategies:

Vitamin & Nutrient Associations

For very quick relief from a diarrhoea program then a gentle fiber supplement that has absorption properties taken with a very small amount of water will often push through the problem very quickly.

Further reading through our articles on health issues will give you a body of information that will help you decide what options you have to deal with the underlying causes of your diarrhoea problem through giving your body the nutrition products that will assist you body to heal from the inside out. We wish you well in your search for solutions to this problem and your movement towards better health in all areas.

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