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What is diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea – loose, watery stools occurring more than three times in one day – is a common problem that usually lasts a day or two and goes away on its own without any special treatment.

However, persistent diarrhoea can be a sign of other problems.

Diarrhoea can be described as either acute or chronic.

Acute diarrhoea is common and affects nearly everyone at some point. It can be caused by a virus or bacterial infection and should go away within a few days. Everyone is different so it might last longer for some people more than others.

You should see your doctor if:

  • The diarrhoea lasts for more than two days in an adult, or for more than 24 hours in a baby
  • You get dehydrated
  • You also have a fever
  • You have severe pain in your abdomen or rectum
  • The diarrhoea is bloody or black.

Chronic diarrhoea continues for a longer period of time, usually more than two weeks. Chronic diarrhoea can be a sign of an inflammatory bowel condition, for example Crohn’s disease, or a chronic bowel infection.

A common cause of diarrhoea in both children and adults is gastroenteritis, which is an infection of the bowel.

In adults, diarrhoea caused by gastroenteritis will usually clear up in two to four days when the infection has cleared. If it lasts for more than a two weeks it may be a sign of a more serious condition and should be investigated by your doctor, especially if there is blood or pus in your faeces.

Diarrhoea can cause dehydration, which means the body lacks enough fluid to function properly. Dehydration is particularly dangerous in children and the elderly, and it must be treated promptly.

The content displayed on this webpage is intended for informational purposes and is a guide only. It does not replace or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Information contained on this webpage must be discussed with an appropriate healthcare professional before making any decisions or taking any action based on the content of this webpage.