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Understanding What Causes Diarrhoea and its Treatment

Written byNikhil Ambatkar

Last updated on : 16 May, 2024

Read time : 8 min

What is Diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is a widespread ailment, varying in severity from a fleeting, mild experience to a persistent, long-term issue. It’s familiar and usually not severe. When you have diarrhoea, your poop will be soft and runny.

It’s standard for people to experience diarrhoea a few times a year, usually lasting a few days. However, some people may get it more frequently, which could be due to having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other medical conditions.

Understanding the working of the digestive system

A comprehensive knowledge of your digestive system and its mechanisms is needed to understand what causes diarrhoea. Knowing the ins and outs of how your digestive system works will let you recognise the implications of disrupting the delicate balance of your digestive health.

Your body’s digestive system consists of the gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. When it’s working as it should, food and liquids move from the stomach to the small intestine. 

In the small intestine, the food is broken down, and nutrients are taken in, along with a lot of fluid. The remaining waste and a little water move into the colon, where even more water is removed. Finally, the waste is expelled in the form of faeces, which is the last step in the digestive system.

The digestive system plays a vital role in your overall health. Your food contains essential vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and water that must be broken down and absorbed to give your body the nutrition to function correctly and stay healthy. Without this process, your body could not use what you consume for energy, cell repair, and growth.

If you’re having issues with irritation in your bowels, the regular movement of your intestines can be thrown out of whack. It can lead to the rapid passing of essential salts, fluids, and nutrients meant to be absorbed. You’ll end up with watery stools, another way to describe diarrhoea.

What Causes Diarrhoea?

Commonly, diarrhoea is caused by a virus that infiltrates the digestive system. It is sometimes called the “intestinal flu” or “stomach flu.”

Diarrhoea may also be caused by a variety of other factors, such as:

  • Certain bacterial infections, such as Salmonella and E. coli, can be pretty dangerous
  • Contamination from parasites
  • Gastrointestinal ailments
  • An inability to digest specific foods, like dairy, in the case of lactose intolerance
  • An unfavourable response to a drug
  • Surgery of the gallbladder or gastric resection 

Globally, rotavirus is the leading cause of acute diarrhoea and is responsible for about 40% of hospitalisations in children under 5. Unfortunately, the majority of diarrhoea deaths around the world are due to impure drinking water and inadequate sanitation.

Persistent diarrhoea might indicate a more serious ailment, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Constant and intense diarrhoea may indicate intestinal disease or a functional bowel disorder.

Symptoms of Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea can be recognised by its common signs like passing loose, watery stools more often than usual and a strong desire to use the bathroom.

Diarrhoea can present with various symptoms; you may experience one or all. The exact signs depend on the underlying cause. Commonly, people report nauseous, stomach aches, cramping, bloating, and dehydration. Severe dehydration may occur.

Diagnosis of Diarrhoea

Your physician will conduct a thorough physical assessment and consider your medical background to identify what causes diarrhoea. They might also order laboratory tests to examine your urine and blood specimens.

Your healthcare provider may suggest further tests to identify the source of diarrhoea and other associated issues, such as:

  • Trying to figure out if a food sensitivity or allergy is the cause of an issue might involve doing an elimination diet.
  • Conducting examinations to identify inflammation and any issues associated with the structure of the intestine.
  • A laboratory examination of a stool sample to detect the presence of any bacterial, parasitic, or pathogenic microorganisms.
  • A medical procedure to examine the entire large intestine for evidence of digestive disorders.
  • A medical professional will be conducting an exam of your rectum and lower colon to look for any indications of intestinal illness.

Getting a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy (a procedure involving the insertion of a flexible, fibre-optic probe through the rectum to inspect the colon) is a good idea if you’re dealing with severe or chronic diarrhoea. This sort of examination can help identify any potential intestinal diseases you may have.

Treatment of Diarrhoea

If your case isn’t too severe, you may not need medication. Medicine to stop diarrhoea in adults includes over-the-counter (OTC) remedies like bismuth subsalicylate or loperamide, available in liquid or pill form. These medications for diarrhoea can save your visit to a doctor.

It’s essential to keep your body hydrated. Aim for six 8-ounce glasses of liquids daily, such as electrolyte-infused drinks or decaffeinated soda.

Keep your fluids to small amounts and sip them frequently. Remember to add a liquid probiotics boost to your routine! Loose motion home remedies include having a cup of chicken broth without the fat, tea with honey, and even sports drinks in between.

In extreme circumstances, diarrhoea management is done through an IV treatment. If a bacterial infection is the root of your diarrhoea, your physician may suggest antibiotics.

Your physician will evaluate your condition and make a judgment regarding the best course of action based on following

  • The intensity of the diarrhoea and accompanying issues
  • The frequency of diarrhoea and related condition
  • The level of your hydration
  • Your ability to tolerate different procedures or medications
  • Your overall well-being, past conditions, and years of life thus far all factor into your healthcare

Prevention of Diarrhoea

If you want to stop yourself from getting diarrhoea, there are some simple steps you can take; keep your cooking and food prep areas clean by washing them regularly, serve up food as soon as you cook it, refrigerate leftovers quickly, and make sure to always thaw frozen food in the fridge.

Increase the frequency of washing your hands to keep the spread of the virus or bacteria causing the diarrhoea at bay. Be sure to use soap and scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. If you can’t access a sink, using hand sanitiser is a good alternative.

Takeaway Message

If you have diarrhoea, you will typically experience loose, watery stools multiple times daily. If left untreated, diarrhoea can lead to dangerous consequences, including dehydration. It is usually a short-term consequence of an infection.

Viral and bacterial infections often cause diarrhoea but can also result from food intolerances, medication side effects, and various chronic conditions.

If a child in your care shows signs of diarrhoea, getting them medical attention is essential. If you feel any symptoms over a few days, try OTC medicine for loose motion. Young children, especially those under 5, can be especially vulnerable to diarrhoea and dehydration, and prompt medical care should be sought in this case.

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Frequently asked questions

Which foods help treat diarrhoea besides rice and baked beans?

When you are suffering from diarrhoea, it’s best to stick with bland, easily digestible foods, like boiled potatoes, toast, saltines, pretzels, and baked chicken without skin or fat. Probiotics, often called “good” bacteria, have been linked to faster recovery from diarrhoea. These beneficial microbes work by releasing compounds that neutralise toxins secreted by harmful bacteria, helping to alleviate symptoms of illnesses like diarrhoea. Probiotic food includes kimchi, yoghurt, sauerkraut etc.

Do pills get digested during diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea can cause your medications not to be properly absorbed as it rapidly moves everything through your digestive system, bypassing the regular sites where the medications should be absorbed into your blood. It can prevent the medication from being fully effective.

Is having Diarrhoea for two days normal?

For kids, diarrhoea usually resolves within 5-7 days and does not continue for more than two weeks. For grown-ups, the condition typically improves within 2-4 days; however, in some instances, it may persist for a week or more.

How is the intake of ORS and diarrhoea related?

You should know that dehydration caused by diarrhoea can be treated with Oral Rehydration Solutions (ORS). Unlike other fluids, ORS contains the exact balance of ingredients needed for the body to recover from a diarrhoeal illness.

What causes diarrhoea?

Ingestion of pathogenic microorganisms, such as Escherichia coli or parasites through food or water contamination, is what causes diarrhoea. Diarrhoea caused by bacteria and parasites contracted while travelling in underdeveloped nations is commonly referred to as traveller’s diarrhoea.

What is the best treatment for diarrhoea?

Stay hydrated with various liquids such as water, broths, and juices. Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages should be avoided. Once your bowel movements become regular, slowly add semi-solid and low-fibre foods to your diet. Examples include soda crackers, toast, eggs, rice, and chicken.

DisclaimerThe information given in this article is accurate to our best knowledge. Still, we recommend you consult your healthcare professional before taking any medication or dietary supplements mentioned in this article.


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Our healthcare experts have carefully reviewed and compiled the information presented here to ensure accuracy and trustworthiness. It is important to note that this information serves as a general overview of the topic and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, prevent, or cure any health problem. This page does not establish a doctor-patient relationship, nor does it replace the advice or consultation of a registered medical practitioner. We recommend seeking guidance from your registered medical practitioner for any questions or concerns regarding your medical condition.


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