It is one of the most common health complaints. It can range from a mild, temporary condition to a potentially life threatening one.

Globally, an estimated 2 billion cases of diarrheal disease occur each year. Also, around 1.9 million children under the age of 5 years — mostly in developing countries — die from diarrhoea every year. This makes it the second leading cause of death in this age group.

Diarrhoea is characterized by abnormally loose or watery stools. Most cases are due to bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Digestive system disorders can also cause chronic diarrhoea.

If a person frequently passes stools but they are of a normal consistency, this is not diarrhoea. Similarly, breastfed babies often pass loose, sticky stools. This is normal.

This article looks at the causes and treatments of diarrhoea. It also looks at symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, and when to see a doctor.


Possible symptoms include

  • Cramps or pain in the abdomen
  • An urgent need to use the bathroom
  • Loss of bowel control

If a virus or bacteria is the cause of your diarrhoea, you may also have a fever, chills, and bloody stools.

Diarrhoea can cause dehydration, which means that your body does not have enough fluid to work properly. Dehydration can be serious, especially for children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.


 Many cases are due to an infection in the gastrointestinal tract. The microbes responsible Trusted Source for this infection include:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses       
  • Parasitic organisms

The most commonly identified causes of are the bacteria SalmonellaCampylobacterShigella, and Escherichia coli.

Some cases of chronic diarrhoea are called “functional” because although all the digestive organs appear normal, they are not functioning as they ideally should. In the developed world, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common cause of functional diarrhoea.

IBS causes many symptoms, including cramping, abdominal pain, and altered bowel habits.


Mild cases may resolve without treatment.

For persistent or chronic diarrhoea, a doctor will treat any underlying causes in addition to the symptoms of diarrhoea.

The sections below will discuss some possible treatment options in more detail.


Children and older people are particularly vulnerable to dehydration. For all cases of diarrhoea, rehydration is vital.

People can replace fluids by simply drinking more of them. In severe cases, however, a person may need intravenous fluids.

Oral rehydration solution or salts (ORS) refers to water that contains salt and glucose. The small intestine absorbs the solution to replace the water and electrolytes lost in the stool. Zinc supplementation may also reduce the severity and duration of diarrhoea in children.

Anti-diarrhoeal medication

Over-the-counter anti-diarrhoeal medications are also available. These include loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol).Pepto-Bismol reduces diarrheal stool output in adults and children. It can also prevent traveller’s diarrhoea. There is some concern that anti-diarrhoeal medications could prolong bacterial infection by reducing the removal of pathogens through stools.


Antibiotics can only treat diarrhoea due to bacterial infections. If the cause is a certain medication, switching to another drug might help.

Always talk to a doctor before switching medications.


The following diet tips may help with diarrhoea:

  • Sipping on clear liquids, such as electrolyte drinks, water, or fruit juice without added sugar
  • After each loose stool, replacing lost fluids with at least 1 cup of liquid
  • Doing most of the drinking between, not during, meals
  • Consuming high potassium foods and liquids, such as diluted fruit juices, potatoes without the skin, and bananas
  • Consuming high sodium foods and liquids, such as broths, soups, sports drinks, and salted crackers
  • Eating foods high in soluble fibre, such as banana, oatmeal, and rice, as these help thicken the stool
  • Limiting foods that may make diarrhoea worse, such as creamy, fried, high dairy, and sugary foods

Foods and beverages that might make diarrhoea worse include:

  • Sugar-free gum, mints, sweet cherries, and prunes
  • Caffeinated drinks and medications
  • Fructose in high amounts, from fruit juices, grapes, honey, dates, nuts, figs, soft drinks, and prunes
  • Lactose in dairy products
  • Magnesium
  • Olestra (Olean), which is a fat substitute
  • Anything that contains artificial sweeteners

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