Diarrhoea is where you frequently pass watery or loose poo. Some people may also have other symptoms, depending on the cause.

It affects most people from time to time and is usually nothing to worry about. However, it can be distressing and unpleasant until it passes, whichnormally takes a few daystoa week.

The excessive loss of water in your poo can also sometimes lead to symptoms of dehydration , which can be serious if it's not recognised and treated quickly.

This topic covers:

Traveller's diarrhoea




When to seek medical advice

Contact your GP or call NHS 111 for advice if you're concerned about yourself or your child.

You should also contact your GP in the situations outlined below, as theymay meanan increasedriskof a more serious problem.

Most cases will pass infive to seven days.


Contact your GP if you have diarrhoea and:

  • there's blood in your poo
  • you're vomiting persistently
  • you've lost a lot of weight
  • you've passeda large amount of very watery diarrhoea
  • it occurs at night and is disturbing your sleep
  • you've recently taken antibiotics or been treated in hospital
  • you have symptoms of dehydration
  • your poo is dark or black this may be a sign of bleeding inside your stomach

You should also contact your GP if you have persistent diarrhoea. Most cases in adults will pass in two to four days.

Causes ofdiarrhoea

There are many different causes of diarrhoea, but a bowel infection (gastroenteritis) is a common cause in both adults and children.

Gastroenteritiscan be caused by:

  • a virus such as norovirus or rotavirus
  • bacteria such ascampylobacter or Escherichia coli (E. coli), whichare often picked up from contaminated food
  • aparasite such as the parasite that causes giardiasis , which is spread in contaminated water

These infections can sometimes be caught during travel abroad, particularly to areas with poor standards of public hygiene. This is known as travellers' diarrhoea.

Diarrhoea can also be the result of:

  • anxiety
  • a food allergy
  • medication
  • a long-term condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

It's very important that babies and small children don't become dehydrated. Your pharmacist may suggest youuse an oral rehydration solution (ORS) if you or your child are particularly at risk of dehydration.

You should eat solid food as soon as you feel able to.If you're breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby and they have diarrhoea, you should try to feed them as normal.

Stay at home until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea to prevent spreading any infection to others.

Medications toreduce diarrhoea, such as loperamide, are available. However, these aren't usually necessary, and most types shouldn't be given to children.

You can reduce your risk by making sure you maintain high standards of hygiene.

For example, you should:

  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after going to the toilet and before eating or preparing food
  • clean the toilet, including the handle and the seat, with disinfectant after each bout of diarrhoea
  • avoid sharing towels, flannels, cutlery or utensils with others
  • wash soiled clothing and bed linen separately from other clothes and at the highest temperature possible for example, 60C or higher for linenafter first removing any poo into the toilet
  • avoidreturning to work or schooluntil at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea

You can do this by visitingthe NHS Fit for Travel and National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) websites.

A vaccine that helps protect children againstrotavirus is now part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule.

This vaccine is given as a liquid that's dropped into a baby's mouth. It's given in two doses, with the first given at two months and another at three months.

Read about the rotavirus vaccine .

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 4 Jan 2017