Common GI Symptoms

Common GI Symptoms > What is Diarrhoea?

What is Diarrhoea?

What is Diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is the passage of loose or watery stools. It is commonly associated with increased frequency.

There are many classifications of diarrhoea. A simple classification is by the duration of symptoms – acute when it is less than 14 days, persistent when it is between 14 to 30 days, or chronic if it is more than 30 days.

What are the causes of Diarrhoea?

Acute diarrhoea is most often caused by gastrointestinal infections (infectious gastroenteritis). A wide range of bacteria, viruses and parasites can cause this and may be acquired through ingestion of unhygienic or contaminated food and beverages, contact with sick persons carrying the infection, or exposure during travel. Some infections may lead to persistent or chronic diarrhoea.

Chronic diarrhoea is more commonly associated with non-infectious causes. These may be external causes, such as dietary or medication related, or may be due to abnormalities in the gastrointestinal tract.

When should I get checked? 

Most cases of diarrhoea are infection related and self-limiting. In such cases, maintaining hydration is the mainstay of care. Some individuals develop transient lactose-intolerance after infectious gastroenteritis, and temporary avoidance of lactose (the sugar found in animal milk and yoghurts) may prevent exacerbation of symptoms. It is important to maintain hygiene and take appropriate precautions to minimise the risk of transmission to others.

If acute diarrhoea is severe, or if diarrhoea becomes persistent or chronic, then it would be important to seek medical evaluation.

Other symptoms that should prompt medical attention include non-resolving, worsening or severe abdominal pain, blood in the stools, inability to maintain oral intake, weight loss, fevers, chills or rigours.


What tests will I need? 

Your doctor may request blood tests and stool tests to evaluate for signs of infection, the severity of dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, as well as try to identify any other cause of your symptoms.

Imaging tests such as abdominal x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan may be required in certain situations, depending on your symptoms and physical signs. Referral to a gastroenterologist for gastrointestinal endoscopy (oesophagogastroduodenoscopy and/or colonoscopy) with biopsies may be required in certain circumstances.


What treatments will I need?

Maintaining hydration and electrolyte balance, either via oral rehydration salts or intravenous fluid and electrolyte replacement may be necessary.

Anti-diarrhoeal medications are generally not recommended initially, as these may mask symptoms, delay diagnosis or make the gastrointestinal injury worse.

Antimicrobial treatment such as antibiotics are not always required but may be prescribed depending on the cause and severity of your diarrhoea.

For non-infectious causes of diarrhoea, specific therapies – dietary measures, medication or otherwise – will need to be tailored to the underlying condition causing your symptoms.


How can I prevent diarrhoea?

To prevent acquiring or transmitting infectious diarrhoea, some measures you can implement include:

  • Maintaining good hygiene and contact precautions (such as hand washing with soap and water)
  • Ensuring food is stored safely at appropriate temperatures (e.g. in the fridge and freezer) and are hygienically handled, well washed or thoroughly cooked before consumption
  • Avoiding unhygienic food and beverage ingestions such as when travelling.

More information on diarrhoea can be sought from your healthcare provider.

More information on food safety may be obtained at Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore ( or from your healthcare provider.