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What is the definition of Diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is defined as the passage of more than three loose bowel actions a day. Diarrhoea is classified based on the duration of symptoms:

  • Acute Diarrhoea?- less than four weeks duration
  • Chronic Diarrhoea?- longer than four weeks

What are the causes of Acute Diarrhoea?

Almost everyone has had an episode of diarrhoea at some stage in their life. Acute diarrhoea is often a symptom of infection and usually spontaneously resolves over 2-5 days. A consultation with your doctor is recommended if you feel unwell, are unable to tolerate food and fluids, have bleeding from the back passage or have a high fever.

What are the causes of Chronic Diarrhoea?

There are many causes of chronic diarrhoea. This may include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome IBS
  • Coeliac Disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) e.g. Ulcerative colitis, Crohns disease
  • Infections – e.g. Giardia, cryptosporidium
  • Food intolerances -?eg. Fructose, lactose, sorbitol etc
  • Medications?- e.g. Reflux medications, some antidepressants

A consultation with your doctor is recommended if you have chronic diarrhoea, particularly if the following features are also present: loss of weight, bleeding from the back passage, family history of bowel cancer, fever.

What tests may be performed to evaluate Chronic Diarrhoea?

A range of tests may be important to find the underlying cause of chronic diarrhoea including: blood tests, stool tests, X rays, hydrogen breath tests, or gastroscopy and/or colonoscopy. Your primary health care provider can arrange many of these investigations, but may refer you to your specialist if the cause is not apparent or a gastroscopy/colonoscopy is required.

What is the treatment for Chronic Diarrhoea?

Whilst anti-diarrhoeal medications (e.g. Gastrostop, Imodium, Lomotil) may improve the symptoms it remains important to treat the underlying cause as identified by investigations.