Diarrhoea Q&A

For children under 12 years, see chart 44

Diarrhoea, which is the frequent passing of abnormally loose or watery faeces, is usually a result of infection. However, persistent diarrhoea may be caused by a serious gastrointestinal disorder. Consult your doctor if diarrhoea continues for more than 2 days or if it recurs.

  • Have you noticed blood in your faeces?

    • Blood
      • Possible cause You may be suffering from an intestinal infection, such as amoebiasis, or an inflammatory condition of the intestines, such as ulcerative colitis. However, there is a slight possibility of colorectal cancer.

        Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

    • No blood

      Have you suffered from repeated bouts of diarrhoea over the past few weeks?

      • Recurrent diarrhoea

        Has the diarrhoea been alternating with bouts of constipation?

        • Constipation and diarrhoea
          • Possible cause Irritable bowel syndrome is the most likely cause of your symptoms. In rare cases, these symptoms may be an indication of colorectal cancer.

            Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

        • Diarrhoea alone

          Have the attacks of diarrhoea occurred since a visit abroad?

          • Foreign travel
            • Possible cause You may have picked up traveller’s diarrhoea (see Gastroenteritis) or an intestinal infection, such as giardiasis, during your foreign visit.

              Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

          • No foreign travel

            Do you have recurrent pain in the lower abdomen?

            • Yes
            • No

              Is your diarrhoea associated with either of the following?

              • Eating particular foods
                • Possible cause There is a possibility that you have a food allergy or food intolerance.

                  Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

              • Period of stress
                • Possible cause Anxiety disorders can be a cause of diarrhoea.

                  Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

              • Neither

                Are you currently taking any medications or complementary remedies?

                • Yes
                  • Possible cause Your symptoms may be a side effect of the medication or remedy.

                    Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor. Continue to take prescribed medication unless advised to stop by your doctor but stop taking any other medications or complementary remedies.

                • No
                  • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your diarrhoea from this chart, make an appointment to see your doctor.

      • First attack

        Have you recently consumed either of the following?

        • Food that may have been contaminated
          • Possible cause Your symptoms may be due to food poisoning.

            Self-help Maintain your fluid intake (see Preventing dehydration). Consult your doctor if you are no better within 2 days or if any other symptoms develop.

        • Water that may have been contaminated
          • Possible cause Your symptoms may be due to food poisoning.

            Self-help Maintain your fluid intake (see Preventing dehydration). Consult your doctor if you are no better within 2 days or if any other symptoms develop.

        • Neither

          Do you have either of the following symptoms?

          • Nausea or vomiting
          • Temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
          • Neither

            Is your diarrhoea associated with either of the following?

            • Eating particular foods
              • Possible cause There is a possibility that you have a food allergy or food intolerance.

                Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

            • Period of stress
              • Possible cause Anxiety disorders can be a cause of diarrhoea.

                Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

            • Neither

              Are you currently taking any medications or complementary remedies?

              • Yes
                • Possible cause Your symptoms may be a side effect of the medication or remedy.

                  Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor. Continue to take prescribed medication unless advised to stop by your doctor but stop taking any other medications or complementary remedies.

              • No
                • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your diarrhoea from this chart, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Warning

Dehydration

A person with severe diarrhoea can become dehydrated if fluids are not replaced quickly enough. The symptoms of dehydration include drowsiness or confusion, a dry mouth, loss of elasticity in the skin, and failure to pass urine for several hours. Seek urgent medical help if a person has symptoms of dehydration.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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