Diarrhoea

Introduction

Diarroea is the passing of watery stools more than three times a day. It is often a symptom of an infection or long-term condition.

Diarrhoea can either be:

  • acute: diarrhoea that comes on suddenly, and lasts for five to 10 days, or
  • chronic: diarrhoea that lasts for more than two weeks.

What causes diarrhoea?

Acute diarrhoea is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection and affects almost everyone from time to time.

Chronic diarrhoea may be a sign of a more serious condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease, and should always be investigated by your doctor.

See Causes for more information.

How common is it?

Diarrhoea and vomiting is very common, especially in children. A baby or toddler will probably have diarrhoea and vomiting two or three times a year.

How serious is it?

Diarrhoea usually clears up in a couple of days and is not serious. However, it can be serious in babies and the elderly because of the risk of dehydration.

If diarrhoea is persistent or there are other symptoms, such as bleeding, see your GP (see Diagnosis, above).

If your child is between three months and one year old, diarrhoea should last no longer than 48 hours. If it lasts any longer, contact your GP.

Glossary

Diarrhoea
Diarrhoea is the passing of frequent watery stools when you go to the toilet.
Stools
Stool (also known as faeces) is the solid waste matter that is passed from the body as a bowel movement.
Acute
Acute means occuring suddenly or over a short period of time.
Chronic
Chronic usually means a condition that continues for a long time or keeps coming back.
Dehydration
Dehydration is an excessive loss of fluids and minerals from the body.
Last updated: 04 October 2011

Continue to next section: Symptoms of diarrhoea