Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea usually goes away on its own within a few days. Make sure you or your child drink plenty of fluids.

Adults with diarrhoea
Babies and toddlers with diarrhoea
How long diarrhoea lasts
What causes diarrhoea
Preventing diarrhoea

How you can treat diarrhoea yourself

Diarrhoea should go away on its own within a few days. It’s normal to also have stomach cramps.

It’s important that you drink enough fluids to avoid dehydration. Your pee should be light yellow or clear.

As soon as you feel able to eat, go back to your normal diet.

If you have a high temperature of 38C or more, take painkillers like paracetamol.

A pharmacist can help with diarrhoea

You can take medicines to help reduce the diarrhoea and shorten how long it lasts. However, you don’t have to take these and they won’t cure your diarrhoea.

Describe your symptoms to the pharmacist. They can recommend the best medicine for you.

Frail or elderly people can dehydrate more easily. You can get sachets with salt, sugar and minerals at the pharmacy which you can use in addition to the normal diet. They’re called oral rehydration solutions.

See a GP if:

  • you feel very sick and keep vomiting
  • you have no appetite and you’re losing weight
  • your poo is very dark and smelly (this may indicate blood in your poo)
  • the diarrhoea doesn’t go away
  • you have recently taken antibiotics or been treated in hospital

Diarrhoea can be infectious. Check with the GP before you go in. They may suggest a phone consultation.

Babies and toddlers: treating diarrhoea

You can often safely look after your baby or toddler at home. However it’s very important to watch out for signs of dehydration.

Babies and toddlers can become dehydrated more quickly than older children when they have diarrhoea and vomiting. If dehydration becomes severe it can be dangerous, particularly in young babies.

Do

  • give them enough to drink in small sips - they dehydrate very quickly
  • continue breastfeeding or formula as normal
  • to ease the pain you can give liquid paracetamol for children
  • if your child is eating solid foods, offer them their usual food if they want it

Don't

  • give them medicines to stop the diarrhoea
  • give them fruit juice and fizzy drinks (they can make the diarrhoea worse)

Take your baby or toddler to the GP if they:

  • had 6 or more bouts of diarrhoea in the past 24 hours
  • vomited more than 3 times in the past 24 hours
  • have watery or bloody poo
  • show signs of dehydration, for example fewer wet nappies
  • have severe stomach ache or one that doesn’t stop
  • still have diarrhoea after 5 to 7 days

Diarrhoea can be infectious. Check with the GP before you go in. They may suggest a phone consultation.

Take your baby or toddler to the GP urgently or go to A&E if they:

  • have a high temperature and you can’t bring it down - over 38C (under 3 months), over 39C (3 to 6 months)
  • have blood or mucus in their poo
  • have severe tummy pain
  • are getting worse quickly

How long diarrhoea lasts

Diarrhoea often lasts 2 to 4 days in adults and 5 to 7 days in babies or children.

Diarrhoea can be infectious. To avoid giving it to other people you should:

  • stay off work for 2 days
  • keep children at home for 2 days
  • avoid swimming pools for 2 weeks

Check if you have diarrhoea

Symptoms for adults and children include:

  • watery or loose poo
  • stomach cramps
  • feeling sick and vomiting
  • headache
  • no appetite

What causes diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is usually caused by a bowel infection. Other causes can be things like a food allergy, alcohol or appendicitis. If you’re taking any medicine, check the side effects. Diarrhoea might be one of them.

Conditions that can cause diarrhoea

You can’t always prevent diarrhoea

Good food hygiene can reduce the risk of getting it.

While you have diarrhoea:

  • wash your hands well every time you’ve been to the toilet
  • clean the toilet after you’ve gone
  • don’t share towels and things you put in your mouth (like cutlery)
  • wash soiled clothes or bed linen at 60 degrees or higher

As part of their routine childhood vaccination children are vaccinated against rotavirus, which causes diarrhoea.

Help prevent traveller’s diarrhoea.

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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