Diarrhoea is passing looser, watery or more frequent poo (stools) than is normal for you.
It affects most people from time to time and is usually nothing to worry about. It can be distressing and unpleasant. It normally clears up in a few days to a week.
Complete our self-help guide to check your symptoms and find out what to do next.
What causes diarrhoea?
There are many different causes of diarrhoea. A bowel infection (gastroenteritis) is a common cause in both adults and children.
Gastroenteritis can be caused by:
- a virus – such as norovirus or rotavirus
- bacteria – such as campylobacter and Escherichia (E. coli), which are often picked up from contaminated food
- a parasite – such as the parasite that causes giardiasis, which is spread in contaminated water
These infections can sometimes be caught during travelling 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, or a long-term condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
What to do if you have diarrhoea
Most cases of diarrhoea clear up after a few days without treatment.
You should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Drink small sips of water often. It's very important that babies and children do not become dehydrated.
Your pharmacist may suggest you use an oral rehydration solution (ORS) if you or you child are particularly at risk of dehydration.
You should eat solid foods 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 to reduce diarrhoea, such as loperamide, are available. However, these are not usually necessary. Most types of medication should not be given to children
Diarrhoea is often caused by an infection. You can reduce your risk by making sure you maintain high standards of hygiene.