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Diarrhoea is a fairly common problem that usually lasts only a day or two but – when it does last longer – can be a sign of other problems.
Diarrhoea is described as acute (starts suddenly and can last up to two weeks) or chronic (lasting more than two weeks). Chronic diarrhoea can be a sign of other problems including Crohn’s disease or a bowel infection.
Acute diarrhoea is suffered by nearly everyone at some stage in their lives and is most usually caused by a virus or bacterial infection.
Diarrhoea must be monitored as it can cause dehydration which is potentially very dangerous in children, the sick and the elderly.
The symptoms of diarrhoea – which usually clears up by itself within a day or two – include stomach cramps and pains, an urgent need to go to the toilet, nausea, vomiting, and frequent watery faeces.
However, you should seek advice from a healthcare professional if you see blood or pus in the faeces, it is painful to go to the toilet, you have repeated vomiting, a fever, or you find it hard to increase your fluid intake to counter any possible dehydration.
Your community pharmacist can help and will advise you on possible treatments for diarrhoea.
It is also important to avoid spreading the infection that may be causing the diarrhoea.
Viruses spread quickly, mainly through direct contact with vomit or faeces from an infected person, or through contact with a contaminated object.
The virus also may be transmitted by airborne particles from vomiting and diarrhoea.
To reduce the chances of spreading the infection, people suffering from diarrhoea need to thoroughly wash their hands after going to the toilet and before handling food.
Anyone with acute diarrhoea should stay at home if possible and not visit hospitals, swimming pools, infants and nursing homes where spreading the infection can be especially dangerous to residents and patients in these situations.
Speak to your pharmacist who can advise on the best medicines and treatment for you, or who can refer you to a doctor if more treatment is needed.
Your pharmacist may also recommend some changes to your diet to help you recover, including:
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