Diarrhoea may be described as an increase in the frequency of
defecation, accompanied by abnormally soft and watery faeces.
Dehydration is a big risk in the elderly and the very young. Diarrhoea
is generally rapid in onset with associated abdominal cramps,
flatulence and weakness. Family members may similarly be suffering
at the same time, as acute diarrhoea is often due to a mild viral/bacterial
(e.g. Salmonella) infection. It may sometimes be due to irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS), or even a tumour or ulcerative colitis.
You should inform the pharmacist if you are suffering from diarrhoea
The basis of treatment of acute diarrhoea is electrolyte and fluid
replacement; in addition anti-diarrhoeals are useful in adults
and older children.
Infections causing diarrhoea are either viral or bacterial.
Viruses are often responsible for gastro-enteritis.
In infancy the virus is often one that enters through the respiratory
tract - symptoms may often include a cough or a cold.
Sometimes diarrhoea often returns when milk feeds are re-introduced,
this is because one of the enzymes needed for the digestion of
milk is temporarily inactivated. Milk therefore passes through
the bowel undigested causing diarrhoea.
Bacterial infections are the cause
of food poisoning that typically occurs when poultry is under
cooked or contaminated food is reheated insufficiently. Symptoms
may arise within 6-72 hours after ingestion of contaminated food.
The main treatment is rehydration and the infection is usually
self-limiting and eliminated quickly from the bowel.
Great care has to be taken with the old and the very young to
protect them against dehydration. Due to the dangers of dehydration
it would be wise to bring infants suffering from diarrhoea for
longer than one day to your GP.
You may treat diarrhoea that has been present for up to three
days: if it has been longer than three days go to your GP. Most
cases of diarrhoea will be acute and self-limiting. If you are
suffering from other symptoms especially if there is vomiting
or fever, or if you have recently been travelling abroad you should
call into your local pharmacist or GP.
Many prescriptions or OTC medications may cause diarrhoea, so
these should be mentioned to the pharmacy sales assistants. If
you have any bowel problems make sure to mention these also.
All those with diarrhoea, but especially the elderly and very
young should be given replacement fluids to guard against dehydration.
The rehydration sachets we recommend can be given together with
anti-diarrhoeals and are very safe to use, except in diabetics
and those on a restricted sodium diet. The sachets should be made
up with freshly boiled and cooled water, and the solution can
be kept for 24 hours if it is stored in the fridge.
Fizzy, sugary drinks often make the problem worse, and standards
like REHIDRAT/ DIORALYTE are much
safer. There are preparations available to adults to STOP the
diarrhoea. Anti-diarrhoea medication is suitable only from the
age of 12 years and is not recommended in the elderly unless the
GP advises otherwise.
- Patients with diarrhoea should be advised to drink plenty of
clear, non-milky fluids such as water and diluted orange. Patients
with diarrhoea should avoid milk as there can be a temporary intolerance
to lactose, (a sugar present in milk), which makes diarrhoea worse.
- No solid food is advised for 24 hours, and bottle fed infants
should not be given any milk for 24 hours, and should be re-introduced
to it gradually. Breast-feeding, however can continue.