What is diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is defined as bowel movements of a more liquid consistency or an increase in the number or volume of bowel movements. The World Health Organization (WHO) is more specific, defining diarrhoea as three or more loose or liquid stools a day.

As faeces travel through your digestive system, fluids and electrolytes are added to their content. Normally, your large intestine absorbs the excess fluid. When you have diarrhoea, the large intestine is not able to absorb the rush of fluid as more than the usual amount of fluids and electrolytes are secreted during digestion.

Causes of diarrhoea:

Short-term diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is usually a symptom of a bowel infection (gastroenteritis), which can be caused by:

  • a virus
  • bacteria (eg. E.Coli)
  • parasites

Other possible causes of short-term diarrhoea include:

  • feelings of anxiety
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • a food allergy or food poisoning
  • appendicitis
  • damage to the lining of the intestines because of radiotherapy

Diarrhoea can also sometimes be a side effect of a medication, including:

  • antibiotics
  • antacid medicines that contain magnesium
  • some chemotherapy medicines
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – painkillers
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – antidepressants
  • statins – cholesterol-lowering medicines
  • laxatives – medicine used to help empty your bowels

Long-term diarrhoea 

Conditions that can cause persistent diarrhoea include:

  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • inflammatory bowel disease – conditions that cause the gut to become inflamed, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • bile acid malabsorption – where bile produced by the liver builds up in the digestive system
  • chronic pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas
  • bowel cancer – this can cause diarrhoea and blood in your stools
  • post-surgery (eg. gastrectomy)


Prevention of diarrhoea:

  • Wash frequently.Wash your hands before and after preparing food. Wash your hands after handling uncooked meat, using the toilet, changing diapers, sneezing, coughing and blowing your nose.
  • Use hand sanitizers when washing is not possible.Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you can’t get to a sink. Apply the hand sanitizer as you would a hand lotion, making sure to cover the fronts and backs of both hands. Use a product that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

Source: CDC

Preventing travellers diarrhoea:

Diarrhoea commonly affects people who travel to countries where there are inadequate sanitation and contaminated food. To reduce your risk:

  • Watch what you eat.Eat hot, well-cooked food. Avoid raw fruits and vegetables unless you can peel them yourself. Also, avoid raw or undercooked meats and dairy food.
  • Watch what you drink.Drink bottled water served in its original container. Avoid tap water and ice cubes. Use bottled water even for brushing your teeth. Keep your mouth closed while you shower. Beverages made with boiled water, such as coffee and tea, are probably safe. Remember that alcohol and caffeine can aggravate diarrhoea and dehydration.
  • Check for travel warnings
  • Ask your doctor about antibiotics.If you’re travelling to a developing country for an extended time, ask your doctor about starting antibiotics before you go, especially if you have a weakened immune system. In certain cases, taking an antibiotic might reduce your risk of travellers diarrhoea.

Probiotics: The best supplement for gut health

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called good bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy. Probiotics are naturally found in your body. You can also find them in some foods and supplements.

Your good bacteria play a vital role in the development and maintenance of this mucosal immune system in your gut. They compete with the bad microbes for both food and attachment sites on the receptor cells. As long as you have a healthy amount of good microbes, they are usually able to prevail. This will help you to maintain a healthy gut.

Diarrhoea can throw the microbes in your gut off balance. Probiotics, which are doses of helpful bacteria or yeasts, may help get things back on track.


  1. Healthline
  2. Medical News Today
  3. Net
  4. WebMD
  5. CDC