Diarrhoea

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

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 and headaches.

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

Drink small sips of things like water mixed with juice and soup broth to make sure you get enough salt and sugar.

As soon as you feel able to eat, try things like potatoes, rice, bananas, soup, boiled vegetables or salty foods.

To help with headaches or fevers you can take painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Your 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 your 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 that will help you stay hydrated. They’re called oral rehydration solutions.

See your 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 your 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 your GP before you go in. They may suggest a phone consultation.

Take your baby or toddler to the GP urgently 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

If you can’t get hold of your GP, go to A&E.

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

However, 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.