Diarrhoea is a thin, watery stool. There are two different forms of diarrhoea: acute and chronic. Acute diarrhoea occurs suddenly and goes away on its own within a few days. Chronic diarrhoea usually lasts longer than three weeks. Diarrhoea symptoms include a watery stool and holding a stool is difficult or impossible. Often, watery stools have a different colour and smell to normal stools. Additional symptoms include:
- abdominal pain
- abdominal cramps
If symptoms become serious; for example if you have a high fever or severe abdominal pain, always consult a doctor.
Traveller’s diarrhoea is a special type of diarrhoea, caused by poor hygiene. As the name suggests, this type of diarrhoea can be common on holidays when standards of hygiene may not be as good. To prevent traveller’s diarrhoea, it is important to check whether or not you can drink the tap water in the country you are visiting. For more tips on how to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea, contact your country’s main health organization.
Chronic diarrhoea can have many different causes. The most common are listed below:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Food intolerance
- Overflow diarrhoea (diarrhoea caused by constipation)
- Chronic inflammation of the bowel, in cases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Chronic disorders of the pancreas, liver and bile ducts
- Inconsistent eating patterns
- Accelerated metabolism.
- After gastrointestinal tract surgery
If diarrhoea persists for a longer period of time, the family doctor may recommend that the stool is examined. After this additional examination, the diagnosis of ‘chronic diarrhoea’ can be made.
The treatment of chronic diarrhoea depends on the cause. When the underlying cause is treated, the diarrhoea symptoms will decrease. Only in some exceptional cases will long-term diarrhoea inhibitors be prescribed.
There are a number of solutions to help diarrhoea:
- Drink enough. Drink at least 2-3 litres a day. With diarrhoea you lose a lot of fluids, so all the fluids that are lost need to be replenished.
- Try to keep eating normally and preferably choose fibre-rich products such as whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables. Fibre draws moisture from the stool, making the stool thicker.
The cause of chronic diarrhoea should be established to determine the most appropriate dietary solutions. For example, if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or a food intolerance, an appropriate dietary solution should be explored.
If you still suffer from diarrhoea after adjusting your diet by drinking enough fluids and eating enough fibre it is advisable to contact a doctor or a dietitian.
If chronic diarrhoea is caused by a food intolerance and you know which food components you are intolerant to, you can take supplements containing digestive enzymes. These will help you to properly digest the components in food to which you are intolerant. For most intolerances there are supplements on the market. The supplements come in different types, sizes and doses. There are also combination supplements containing several enzymes that you can use if you suffer from different intolerances.
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