We have all had diarrhoea at one point or another in our lives and while it is deeply unpleasant and uncomfortable, it’s often just a symptom of a stomach bug and according to the NHS, in adults, it should pass within 5-7 days but for people with busy lives or who are going on holiday, for example, potentially a week of diarrhoea isn’t really an option.
I mean, who would actually want that?
Thankfully, in their latest bitesize podcast episode, the experts at ZOE have given advice on what does and does not work for treating this symptom and dispelled rumours of “quick fixes”.
So, what causes diarrhoea?
According to ZOE’s Dr Will Bulsiewicz, “put simply when you, when you have diarrhoea, it’s because your intestines have been flooded with an abnormal amount of water.
“There are a couple of ways this could happen. One is that you’re not adequately absorbing the water out of your intestines, but the second is that water is actually being pulled into the intestines and therefore there’s just too much of it there.”
He added that while this is often due to food, if you have three bouts of diarrhoea in a 24 hour period, this is when it should be considered an infection. He adds that while the medical term is gastroenteritis, this is also known as a stomach bug or stomach flu.
Other signs of infection will include nausea, vomiting, a loss of appetite, weight loss, and dehydration. However, one thing that Dr Bulsiewicz looks for is nocturnal diarrhoea. This is where a person wakes up through the night with an urgent need to go to the bathroom and empty their bowels.
He added: “This particular thing is very important because there are many digestive conditions that exist and the majority of them will not wake you up in the middle of the night to have a bowel movement. But if it’s an infection or if it’s an inflammatory cause of your diarrhoea, that’s the kind of thing that will get you up.”
And, can we stop diarrhoea?
Sadly, there is of course no simple answer.
The doctors state in the podcast that while it’s important to treat the effects of diarrhoea like dehydration with electrolytes and water, solutions like Imodium aren’t necessarily the best possible answers.
According to Bulsiewicz, we probably shouldn’t always reach for this “quick” solution. This is because, “Imodium helps to slow our bowel motility, so it can definitely reduce the explosiveness of our diarrhoea, which clearly is desirable in that moment when you’re suffering with this issue. But there’s concerns that taking Imodium can actually compromise our colon health. If it’s a bacterial infection, it can actually be dangerous in this setting.”
This is because when we’re experiencing diarrhoea, our body is trying to actually get rid of the infection.
“There’s an overgrowth of some sort of pathogenic organism. And if you slow down our colon motility, then what you’re doing is you’re actually trapping that pathogenic organism. You’re allowing it to multiply and grow stronger. And this can lead to a condition called toxic megacolon,” the expert adds.
Instead, the doctor recommends using Pepto Bismol (the UK equivalent is something like Gaviscon!) which combats both the infection and the symptoms of diarrhoea.
He admits that this doesn’t work quite as quickly or dramatically as Imodium does but if you are experiencing diarrhoea that’s severe enough to need urgent stopping, you need to be seen by a medical professional.