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Diarrhoea is where you frequently pass watery or loose poo. Some people may also have other symptoms, depending on the cause.
It affects most people from time to time and is usually nothing to worry about. However, it can be distressing and unpleasant until it passes, which normally takes a few days to a week.
The excessive loss of water in your poo can also sometimes lead to symptoms of dehydration, which can be serious if it's not recognised and treated quickly.
This topic covers:
Contact your GP or call NHS 111 for advice if you're concerned about yourself or your child.
You should also contact your GP in the situations outlined below, as they may mean an increased risk of a more serious problem.
Read more about diagnosing the cause of diarrhoea.
You should contact your GP or health visitor urgently if your baby has had six or more episodes of diarrhoea in the past 24 hours, or if they've vomited three times or more in the past 24 hours.
You should also seek advice if your baby has any symptoms of dehydration.
Contact your GP if your child has:
You should also contact your GP if your child has persistent diarrhoea. Most cases will pass in five to seven days.
Contact your GP if you have diarrhoea and:
You should also contact your GP if you have persistent diarrhoea. Most cases in adults will pass in two to four days.
There are many different causes of diarrhoea, but a bowel infection (gastroenteritis) is a common cause in both adults and children.
Gastroenteritis can be caused by:
These infections can sometimes be caught during travel abroad, particularly to areas with poor standards of public hygiene. This is known as travellers' diarrhoea.
Diarrhoea can also be the result of:
Read more about the causes of diarrhoea.
Most cases of diarrhoea clear up after a few days without treatment, and you may not need to see your GP.
However, diarrhoea can lead to dehydration, so you should drink plenty of fluids – frequent small sips of water – until it passes.
It's very important that babies and small children don't become dehydrated. Your pharmacist may suggest you use an oral rehydration solution (ORS) if you or your child are particularly at risk of dehydration.
You should eat solid food as soon as you feel able to. If you're breastfeeding or bottle feeding your baby and they have diarrhoea, you should try to feed them as normal.
Stay at home until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea to prevent spreading any infection to others.
Medications to reduce diarrhoea, such as loperamide, are available. However, these aren't usually necessary, and most types shouldn't be given to children.
Read more about treating diarrhoea.
Diarrhoea is often caused by an infection. You can reduce your risk by making sure you maintain high standards of hygiene.
For example, you should:
Read more about preventing germs spreading.
It's important to practise good food and water hygiene while travelling abroad, such as avoiding potentially unsafe tap water and undercooked food.
If you're planning a trip abroad, check health advice for the countries you'll be travelling to.
You can do this by visiting the NHS Fit for Travel and National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) websites.
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Rotavirus is a virus that commonly causes diarrhoea in children. A vaccine that helps protect children against rotavirus is now part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule.
This vaccine is given as a liquid that's dropped into a baby's mouth. It's given in two doses, with the first given at two months and another at three months.
Read about the rotavirus vaccine.