What is Diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea Symptoms, Causes and Treatment 

Diarrhoea is a condition where you frequently pass stools in liquid form. It is often self-limiting and subsides after 5 days until 1 week for adults. In children, diarrhoea often subsides after 4 days.

This digestive condition is widespread and is often nothing to concern yourself too much with. Almost everyone has experienced at least one diarrhoeal episode in their lives.

Extended diarrhoea bouts may be dangerous, though. Immediately speak to a doctor if you or your child’s diarrhoea doesn’t go away within the usual infection timeline.

Diarrhoea symptoms

Diarrhoea often presents with the following symptoms:

  • Loose, watery, or thin stools
  • Large volumes of stools
  • Stomach pain and cramps eased after moving your bowels
  • Bloating
  • The urgency to use the toilet
  • Feeling and being generally unwell

Diarrhoea causes large water losses in the body, so you also need to be vigilant for dehydration signs. More on this will be tackled later.


Causes of diarrhoea

There are plenty of possible culprits that caused your diarrhoeal infection. The most common one is a gut infection, also known as gastroenteritis or stomach flu. Gut infection could be a result of any of the following factors:

  • Bacteria that cause food poisoning (Escherichia coli, Salmonella)
  • Viruses such as norovirus
  • Parasites (in rare cases only)


Can diarrhoea be a symptom of something else?

Indeed, diarrhoea could be present as a symptom of the following conditions:

  • Food poisoning
  • Food allergies
  • Consuming contaminated water
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Antibiotic or statin medications
  • Radiotherapy
  • Appendicitis
  • Excessive laxative use
  • Anxiety


Medical conditions that present with diarrhoea include:



Diarrhoea in children and babies


Children and babies can generally be looked after at home if they have diarrhoea. Remember that they can easily get dehydrated – severe dehydration may occur within 24 hours of diarrhoeal episodes. Take your baby or toddler to the physician if he shows the following symptoms:


  • Six or more diarrhoeal bouts within 24 hours
  • Exhibits sickness and diarrhoea at the same time
  • Been sick 3 times or more within 24 hours
  • Persistent stomach ache
  • Watery stools
  • Blood or pus in the stools
  • Shows symptoms of dehydration

If it has been 5 days since the diarrhoeal onset and it still persists, talk to your doctor to uncover the reasons behind the illness. Mobidoctor GPs can see you and your baby/toddler via online video consultation.

Diarrhoea in adults

Mild diarrhoea is usually manageable at home. See a doctor right away if you experience any of the following:

  • Diarrhoea that lasts more than 4-5 days
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Inability to drink fluids
  • Fever
  • Black tarry stools
  • Mucus or blood in the stools
  • Have been to a foreign country and came back now with diarrhoea
  • Symptoms of dehydration
  • Have been recently hospitalised or have been taking antibiotics

Diagnosing diarrhoea

Diarrhoea diagnosis starts with a face-to-face doctor consultation. You’ll be asked about your recent toilet habits, symptoms, any medications you’re currently taking, or whether you’ve caught the illness somewhere or from anyone you know. Severe diarrhoea cases will necessitate a stool examination, where you submit a stool sample and it’s taken to a laboratory for further analysis.

Diarrhoea treatment

Diarrhoea usually subsides on its own:

  • For adults– Within 5 days up to a week
  • For children– Not later than 4 days

Longer durations of diarrhoea might indicate serious conditions, so speak right away to a doctor.

There are some anti-diarrhoeal medications you may take to help control your bowel movement. These include racecadotril and loperamide. Your doctor can prescribe them for you as needed depending on the severity of your diarrhoea.

Looking out for dehydration

Diarrhoea can make you dehydrated as you lose a lot of water after your bowel movements. Dehydration is a serious complication; hence, it is crucial to spot its symptoms readily. This rings true, especially for children and babies.

The following are the general symptoms of dehydration:


  • Fast pulse
  • Dry skin, lips, and eyes
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Minimal amounts of urine
  • Lightheadedness and tiredness
  • Thirstiness 

Apart from these, babies and children may also exhibit the following:

  • Sunken fontanelles (those soft spots on the head)
  • Sunken eyes
  • Irritability
  • Crying without tears

Urgently seek medical help when you notice these symptoms in your child or baby.

How can you prevent diarrhoea?

Protect yourself from catching diarrhoea through the following means:

  • Thoroughly and regularly wash your hands when preparing food, eating food, and after going to the toilet.
  • Stop sharing towels and cutlery with people who’ve recently had diarrhoea.
  • Clean the toilet after every diarrhoeal bout. Pay extra attention to the toilet itself, door handles, and toilet brush.
  • If ever you’ve soiled linen with your diarrhoeal stool, wash them well on high temperature to kill the germs lingering on them.
  • Do not use tap water and don’t consume undercooked food when you’re travelling overseas.
  • Take a leave from work or school if you have diarrhoea. Don’t come back until at least 48 hours after your last diarrhoeal episode.

How can Mobidoctor help?

Mobidoctor’s GPs can listen to you discuss your symptoms and give you an accurate diagnosis of your diarrhoeal condition. They can prescribe medications if needed. They can advise you on the steps you must follow to help your diarrhoea subside as soon as possible. Book an online appointment and see a doctor within minutes.