If you have diarrhoea there are a number of things you can do to help manage the condition.
Here is some self-help information:
- Eat normally – do not starve yourself. If you are hungry, eat regular meals.
- Rest at home and don’t go to work while you are ill.
- Maintain good personal hygiene – you can do this by ensuring that you and your family always wash your hands with soap and warm water before eating or handling food and after using the toilet, cleaning contaminated surfaces or handling garbage.
- Clean surfaces – washing with detergent and water is a very effective way of removing germs from surfaces that you have touched.
- If you have been diagnosed with Norovirus, or have diarrhoea and vomiting following contact with someone else with Norovirus, disinfect any surface that may have been contaminated. The surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned, first with soap and water, and then with a disinfectant. Wear gloves when you are cleaning up the vomit or diarrhoea and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
- Immediately remove and wash clothing or bedding contaminated with diarrhoea or vomit.
- Do not share personal items – use your own personal items, such as towels, toothbrushes, flannels or face cloths.
- Avoid handling or preparing food for others if you have vomiting or diarrhoea until 48 hours after the symptoms stop.
- To prevent the spread of infection, do not go swimming in a public pool for two weeks after your last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting.
- While you are unwell you should keep away from people who can easily pick up infections, such as newborn babies, pregnant women, older people and those with a lowered immune system.
- If you are in pain, get advice on medicines you can take.
- Antibiotics are not usually given to treat diarrhoea.
You lose a lot of fluid when you have diarrhoea, so it’s important to stay hydrated.
- Drink plenty of clear fluids (dilute 1 part juice to 4 parts water). Avoid undiluted fruit juice or soft drinks.
- Re-hydration drinks are available over-the-counter from your local pharmacy (chemist) and from some supermarkets. These drinks provide the correct balance of water, sugar and salt that your body needs. Follow the instructions on the packaging.
- Sports drinks and energy drinks should be avoided as a rehydration fluid option. They have high sugar content that does not assist with rehydration.
You should continue to breastfeed your baby if you have diarrhoea, but you should make sure you drink plenty of fluids to avoid getting dehydrated. Maintain good hygiene and speak to your midwife or doctor for further advice.
Antidiarrhoeal medicines may reduce the diarrhoea and shorten its duration by around 24 hours. However, they are not usually necessary unless shortening the duration of your diarrhoea helps you get back to your essential activities sooner.
Loperamide is the preferred antidiarrhoeal medicine because it causes fewer side effects and there is more evidence of its effectiveness. Loperamide slows down muscle movements in your gut, which leads to more water being absorbed from your faeces. Your faeces then become firmer and are passed less frequently.
Some antidiarrhoeal medicines can be bought from a pharmacy without a prescription. Check the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine to find out if it's suitable for you and what dose you should take. Ask your pharmacist for advice if you are unsure. Although painkillers will not help the diarrhoea, you can take the recommended dose of paracetamol or ibuprofen if you have a fever or headache.
Do not take ibuprofen if you have asthma, or if you have stomach, liver or kidney problems.
Diarrhoea can affect the contraceptive pill (both the combined pill and mini pill). It can make the pill less effective at preventing pregnancy. Extra care must be taken if you wish to avoid pregnancy, such as using condoms. The effectiveness of the pill may not be back to normal for at least one week following diarrhoea, making it necessary to continue extra precautions.
When to see a doctor?
You should see a doctor if:
- there is blood or mucus in your stools
- you have a high temperature (39C)
- you have had diarrhoea without any improvement for 24 hours in children, 48 hours in adults.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your diarrhoea, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: July 2017