Diarrhoea is a common problem involving the frequent passing of loose bowel motions (also known as stools, faeces or poo). Diarrhoea has many possible causes including:

  • bowel or stomach infection
  • food allergies or intolerances (such as lactose intolerance)
  • alcohol
  • the use of stimulant laxatives, especially if overused or used incorrectly
  • bowel diseases including diverticulitis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome
  • some medicines (such as antibiotics)
  • long lasting constipation
  • a shortened bowel as a result of surgery to remove some of the bowel
  • radiotherapy.

You can use the Bristol Stool Chart to check what your bowel motions should look like.

Dietary tips for managing diarrhoea

Some foods can trigger diarrhoea and others help to settle the bowel so changing your diet may help. For example, some of the coarse, insoluble fibre foods such as wholegrain, skins and seeds of certain vegetables can trigger diarrhoea, while soluble fibre foods such as smooth wholemeal breads and cereals can help to form bowel actions. Sometimes a specific type of fibre supplement can help. See your doctor or a dietitian for more advice about these.


If you experience severe or ongoing diarrhoea it is important to seek medical advice.  Older people, babies and young children should particularly be seen by a doctor.

Treatments for diarrhoea may include:

  • fluids to prevent dehydration (including oral dehydration supplements to replace lost salts and minerals)
  • intravenous fluids
  • medications such as anti-diarrhoeal treatment, antibiotics or anti-nausea drugs (which should be prescribed by a doctor, after diagnosing the cause of the diarrhoea).

Keeping a bowel diary can be helpful to anticipate problems and to take to your doctor or Nurse Continence Specialist. A bowel diary will give a clearer picture of your pattern of bowel function over the day and night, including any effects of foods that might be causing bowel problems.


In many cases incontinence can be prevented, better managed and even cured. Talk to your doctor or contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66.

The National Continence Helpline is staffed by Nurse Continence Specialists who offer free and confidential information, advice and support. They also provide a wide range of continence-related resources and referrals to local services.


Last Updated: Wed 29, May 2024
Last Reviewed: Mon 23, Mar 2020