Diarrhoea or Diarrhea is a disorder that causes you to pass looser or more stool than usual. Often symptomatic of Gastroenteritis, which is the inflammation of the stomach or intestine as a result of microbial infection, Diarrhoea usually lasts for 2-4 days without the need for treatment. Severe diarrhoea, on the other hand, poses a threat to your life. The reason behind this is the dehydration that your body undergoes as it steadily loses fluids with every passing of motion. Infants and children, malnourished and people with weakened immunity have the highest risk of falling prey to such infection.
Diarrhoea, however, is a disease that can be prevented if a number of simple measures are taken. The risk of diarrhoeal outbreak can be significantly reduced by maintaining provisions for safe drinking water, facilities for safe and hygienic disposal of human waste and proper hygiene when it comes to washing your hands and body.
Diarrhoeal infections are caused by ingestion of contaminated food and water, contamination by dirty hands or exposure to faecal matter. Some common germs that cause gastro-enteritis and subsequently diarrhoea are:
- Bacteria. E.g. Salmonella or Escherichia (E. coli)
- Viruses. E.g. Norovirus or rotavirus
- Parasites. E.g. Giardia intestinalis
You may experience one or more of the following:
- Watery stools
- Upset stomach or cramps
- Urgent need to use the toilet
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
Bouts of diarrhoea dissipate after a couple of days but one needs to stay constantly hydrated during this period.
There is no substitute to drinking plenty of fluids. Oral Rehydration Solution or ORS mixed with water, works wonders in restoring lost minerals and salts.
Maintain a normal diet, low on or devoid of spice, salt and sugar. For babies with diarrhoea, you should continue to feed/breastfeed them as normal.
For adults, a case of diarrhoea that's lasted more than a week is a serious cause for concern and medical help must be sought immediately.
Diarrhoea usually clears up without treatment after a few days, particularly if it's caused by an infection.
While waiting for your diarrhoea to pass, you can ease your symptoms by following the advice outlined below.
It's important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, particularly if you're also vomiting. Take frequent small sips of water.
It's also very important for babies and small children not to become dehydrated. Give your child frequent sips of water, even if they're vomiting. A small amount is better than none.
Fruit juice or fizzy drinks should be avoided as they can make diarrhoea worse in children.
If you're breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby and they have diarrhoea, you should continue to feed them as normal.
Oral rehydration solutions
Your GP or pharmacist may recommend giving your child an ORS if they're dehydrated or at risk of becoming dehydrated.
The usual recommendation is for your child to drink an ORS each time they have an episode of diarrhoea. The amount they should drink will depend on their size and weight.
Your pharmacist can advise you about this. The manufacturer's instructions should also give information about the recommended dose.
You may be able to give your baby an ORS if they become dehydrated, but check with your GP, pharmacist or health visitor first.
If your child is dehydrated, don't give them any solid food until they have drunk enough fluids. Once they stop showing signs of dehydration, they can start eating their normal diet.
If your child isn't dehydrated, offer them their normal diet. If they refuse to eat, continue to give them fluids and wait until their appetite returns.
Antidiarrhoeal medicines may help reduce your diarrhoea and slightly shorten how long it lasts. However, they're not usually necessary. Loperamide is the main antidiarrhoeal medicine used, as it has been shown to be effective and causes few side effects.