Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is defined as more than three mushy or liquid bowel movements within 24 hours.

Overview

Diarrhoea is defined as more than three mushy or liquid bowel movements within 24 hours. The accompanying symptoms are dictated by the many different causes, e.g. fever, stomach pain or vomiting. Causes include gastrointestinal infections or intolerances, for example. Replacement of lost fluids and hand hygiene are important.

Symptoms

  • >3 mushy or liquid bowel movements within 24 hours
  • Sometimes also distinctly foul-smelling
  • Nausea, vomiting, vomiting and diarrhoea, stomach pain or cramps
  • Possibly accompanied by fever, cold symptoms and joint pains
  • Sometimes, blood in stool or on stool surface
  • Scope: harmless to life-threatening

Complications and consequences

Causes and treatment

Cause

  • Direct triggers
    • Increased bowel activity
    • Increased fluid secretion in the intestine
    • Decreased re-absorption from the intestine

Different formation mechanisms and diseases:

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Blood test
  • Stool analysis
  • Ultrasound, if necessary
  • Colonoscopy, if necessary
Possible therapies
  • Treatment of an underlying disease
  • Contact isolation, if necessary
  • Replacement of fluids (orally or via infusion)
  • Antibiotics
    • Usually better to do without (diarrhoea helps to flush out the bacteria)
    • Important for complications, however, as well as for typhus and cholera

What can I do myself?

  • Replace lost fluids and minerals
    • Drink as much as possible, as soon as possible (in sips)
    • Suitable: unsweetened or slightly sweetened tea, slightly carbonated mineral water, heavily diluted fruit juices, beverages containing electrolytes, well-salted bouillon
    • Children: no sweetened drinks or isotonic solutions
    • Packets of mineral salt preparations are available from the pharmacy
    • Home recipe
  • Return to a normal diet
    • Generally, food that is rich in carbohydrates but low in fat and proteins
    • Don’t consume dairy products (except yoghurt), spicy foods and coffee for the first three days
    • Suitable foods: grated apple, mashed potato (without milk), banana or gruel, rusks, cooked and strained or mashed carrots
    • Continue to breastfeed babies during fluid replacement phase
  • Hand hygiene is essential (in particular in contact with persons suffering from diarrhoea)
    • Wash with soap or use hand sanitisers
    • Regularly change towels
  • Medical charcoal if food poisoning is suspected (but consult a doctor if there is no improvement after three days)
  • Don’t take medication which reduces bowel activity if infectious diarrhoea is suspected
  • Apply rules of food hygiene
    • Wash vegetables and salads well
    • Interrupt cold chain for as short a period as possible
    • Roast meat at a high enough temperature (>70°)
  • Travelling in the tropics and subtropics or developing countries:
    • Obtain medical advice for travellers, check vaccinations
    • Only eat cooked foods, and fruit only if it has been peeled (cook it, boil it, peel it or forget it!)
    • Don't drink tap water, don't put ice cubes into beverages and don't eat ice cream served in open bowls
    • Boil tap water, if necessary (for 15 minutes)
    • Be careful with fish and seafood dishes
    • It's best to use mineral water for brushing the teeth

When to see a doctor?

  • Low threshold for older and weakened people, babies and small children
  • Diarrhoea with fever
    • Emergency: in babies younger than 2 months and children between 3 months and 3 years, if fever is higher than 39°C
  • Blood, pus or mucus in stool
  • Vomiting and colic
  • Long-lasting or recurrent diarrhoea
  • Diarrhoea up to three weeks after a trip to the tropics (consult a doctor quickly)
  • Signs of dehydration
    • Dry mucous membranes, reduced urinary output
    • Rapid pulse, rapid breathing
    • Dizziness
  • Muscle cramps, confusion, drowsiness

Further information

Medical advice for travellers
safetravel.ch

Synonyms

diarrhoea, diarrhea

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CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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