Diarrhoea - Symptoms 

Symptoms of diarrhoea 

Diarrhoea can have a number of associated symptoms depending on the cause and who is affected.

In terms of severity, you may only have slightly watery stools and a brief upset stomach, or your stools may be very watery for a prolonged period.

Many people with diarrhoea experience stomach cramps and a frequent, urgent need to go to the toilet. Other common symptoms associated with diarrhoea include:

  • nausea and vomiting 
  • headache 
  • loss of appetite

When to contact your GP

The advice about when to contact your GP varies depending on who is affected.

Babies

You should contact your GP or health visitor immediately if your baby has had six or more episodes of diarrhoea in the past 24 hours.

Children

Contact your GP if your child has: 

  • had six or more episodes of diarrhoea in the past 24 hours
  • diarrhoea and vomiting at the same time
  • particularly watery diarrhoea 
  • blood in their diarrhoea 
  • diarrhoea that lasts more than two weeks (it usually passes within five to seven days)

Adults

You should visit your GP if you have: 

  • diarrhoea and have recently been in hospital 
  • recently been treated with antibiotics 
  • diarrhoea that has blood in it
  • diarrhoea and persistent vomiting
  • unexplained weight loss
  • bleeding from your rectum (back passage)
  • passed a large amount of very watery diarrhoea  you may be at risk of dehydration  
  • diarrhoea at night that is disturbing your sleep
  • diarrhoea that lasts longer than a week (it usually passes within two to four days)

Dehydration

Severe or persistent diarrhoea can cause dehydration.

In children, symptoms of dehydration include: 

  • irritability or drowsiness
  • passing urine infrequently
  • pale or mottled skin
  • cold hands and feet
  • feeling increasingly unwell

In adults, symptoms of dehydration include: 

  • tiredness and a lack of energy
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • feeling lightheaded
  • dizziness, particularly when standing up
  • dry tongue
  • sunken eyes 
  • muscle cramps
  • rapid heartbeat

Read more about the symptoms of dehydration.

Page last reviewed: 28/11/2012

Next review due: 28/11/2014

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