Diarrhoea is a sign that your body thinks you’ve eaten something you shouldn’t have, and it wants to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
image: some strains of E-coli can cause gastroenteritis
The most obvious symptom is obviously the diarrhoea itself – a sudden outpouring of watery excrement (stool, poo, whatever you want to call it).
Technically, doctors will only call this diarrhoea if it happens on three separate occasions in one day. Otherwise, it’s just a minor upset.
Diarrhoea is not a single disease, so there is no single group of symptoms to look out for.
There are a number of diseases that have diarrhoea as a side-effect, including lactose intolerance, cholera, coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome. Most likely if you have one of those diseases, the diarrhoea is not a surprise.
Diarrhoea is usually caused by a gastrointestinal infection (stomach bug – gastroenteritis), which can be bacterial, viral, or even parasitic in nature.
If there is blood in the stool, the diarrhoea is classed as dysentery, and can take up to 10 days to clear. Go see a doctor as soon as you can.
Diarrhoea is sometimes accompanied by symptoms such as stomach ache, stomach cramps, fever, bloating (your intestinal bacteria are working overtime and putting out gases that expand your body) and sometimes nausea.
In extreme cases (I’ve experienced this one – not nice), you can have strong diarrhoea and vomiting at the same time. It can feel exhausting afterwards.
Because of the amount of fluids that are being expelled by the body during an episode, it is important that you replenish as often as possible.
A person with diarrhoea can lose as much as a litre of water every hour, but it’s not just water that you lose, but salt and zinc.
Top up your zinc intake with supplements while you are affected, and regularly drink a mixture of water, sugar and salt (also known as ORS – oral rehydration solution) to stay hydrated.
While diarrhoea mostly clears up quickly in developed countries, it is still a very dangerous killer in less-developed countries, killing half a million children under five every single year.
Diarrhoea can mostly be avoided by following some very simple instructions:
1. keep your environment clean
2. keep your hands clean (and the rest of you , while you’re at it), with soap
3. don’t touch things or people that are dirty
4. make sure your water is clean (boil it if necessary)