Diarrhoea

Introduction

What is diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is a digestive system disorder often caused by :

  • infection such as viruses, bacteria and parasites
  • food allergy
  • medication
  • food additives
  • chemical ingestion

Diarrhoea can be caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. It is estimated that 4000 million cases of diarrhoea occurred worldwide in 1996 resulting in 2.5 million deaths.

Signs & symptoms

How do I know if I have diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is defined as watery or loose stool usually an increase in normal daily stool volume and frequency. It maybe followed by other symptoms such as :

  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Fever

Complications

Is diarrhoea dangerous?

Severe forms of diarrhoea can present as dehydration and a blood stained diarrhoea is called dysentery. If left untreated, it can cause death.

Treatment

What should I do if I had diarrhoea?

Most cases of diarrhoea clear on their own without treatment. Whenever you have diarrhoea, prevent dehydration and reduce symptoms, by the following :

  • Drink plenty of clear fluids.
  • Add semisolid and low fiber food gradually
  • Avoid dairy products, fatty food, high fiber and highly seasoned foods.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

If the diarrhoea persists beyond one week or if you become dehydrated or have blood stained stool, see your doctor.

  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry mouth or skin
  • Little or no urination
  • Severe weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Dark coloured skin

In young children, diarrhoea can quickly lead to dehydration. See your doctor if diarrhoea persists for more than 12 to 24 hours or if your baby :

  • Has not had a wet diaper in three or more hours
  • Has a high fever
  • Has bloody or blacks stool
  • Has a dry mouth or cries without tears
  • Is unusually sleepy, drowsy, unresponsive or irritable
  • Has a sunken abdomen, eyes or cheeks
  • Has skin that does not flatten if pinched and released.

If the doctor determines that the cause of diarrhoea is medication or food allergy, you need to stop taking the medication or food.

If the causes of diarrhoea is parasitic infection, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics as it may sometimes help to ease bacterial diarrhoea. However antibiotics will not help against viral diarrhoea.

Prevention

What can I do to prevent diarrhoea?

There are many ways to prevent diarrhoea. For infectious diarrhoea :

  • Wash your hands before eating
  • Eat foods which are hot, properly cooked or prepared.
  • Avoid eating raw fruits, vegetables, dairy food or meat. Wash vegetables properly or peel fruits before eating.
  • Avoid food that you are allergic to and medication that can cause diarrhoea.
  • Drink water from a safe water supply, bottled or boiled water. Remember that alcohol and caffeine can aggravate diarrhoea and dehydration.
  • Keep your children at home if they have diarrhoea

Support group

Contact your nearest health office for further assistance.For more complete information : http://www.who.int/topics/diarrhoea/en/

Last Reviewed : 27 August 2008
Writer : Dr. Fuad Hashim