Temporary vs Chronic Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea can be a real pain in the … gut! But did you know that there are two different types of diarrhoea? Whilst some cases of diarrhoea are temporary and go away on their own within a week or so, other cases are chronic and may require a visit to the doctor.

Temporary Diarrhoea

Temporary diarrhoea – also sometimes to referred to as acute diarrhoea – is a bit like a thunderstorm. It comes on suddenly, but it doesn’t stick around for long. This type of diarrhoea is typically caused by short-term infections and lasts anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.


  • Stomach flu: Stomach flu (also known by its scarier name Viral Gastroenteritis) is highly contagious and causes symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhoea. But worry not! Although it may sound intimidating – it tends to clear up on its own within a week.
  • Bacterial infections: Infections by various types of bacteria, including E.coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, V.cholerae, Shigella, and Staphylococcus aureus can cause food poisoning and bring on acute diarrhoea through contaminated water or food. This diarrhoea is common when travelling as food preparation or water quality may be different from what your body is used to!
  • Medications: Anyone who has had a course of antibiotics knows the havoc it can wreak on your gut! So, if you’ve recently been prescribed some and have a case of the runs, worry not – it is an expected side effect. Other medications such as laxatives and chemotherapy drugs may also cause diarrhoea.
  • Overconsumption of alcohol: Alcohol in large amounts can irritate your digestive system which may result in softer stools and a more frequent urge to go. Plus, alcohol’s dehydrating effect can exacerbate the situation.
  • Stress: When you’re feeling stressed out or anxious, your body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which impact your digestive system.

What should you do?

For most cases of temporary diarrhoea, you can expect it to clear up on its own without you lifting a finger. However, if you want to help the process along, here are some things you can try to ease the discomfort:

  1. Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated becomes especially important when you have been suffering a bout of diarrhoea as your body loses much more liquid than usual. Increasing your intake of water can help prevent dehydration (which can worsen diarrhoea). Bonus points if you include coconut water, fresh fruit juice, or clear broth as these drinks can help you restore your electrolyte balance and replenish other lost minerals!
  2. Consider eating some probiotic-containing foods. Foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir are all rich in beneficial bacteria. Incorporating these foods can not only help prevent future cases of diarrhoea but can help alleviate your symptoms by restoring the natural balance of your gut microflora.
  3. Avoid certain foods. Consuming caffeine, alcohol, fatty foods, and foods high in fibre when you are experiencing diarrhoea can exacerbate your symptoms – instead opt for simpler foods which you know your body can easily digest.
  4. Try some over-the-counter medication. Certain medications such as Pepto Bismol and Imodium are available OTC and can offer some quick relief from diarrhoea symptoms.

Chronic Diarrhoea

Unlike temporary diarrhoea, chronic diarrhoea is a bit like a leaky tap at your sink – it just never seems to stop. This type of diarrhoea is usually a sign of an underlying medical condition such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or certain food intolerances such as coeliac disease and lactose intolerance. As a result, chronic diarrhoea cases last much longer (>4 weeks).

What should you do?

If you have been experiencing frequent, loose/watery stools for several weeks, it is important to talk to your GP.

Treatment for chronic diarrhoea is dependent on what the underlying cause is – however, it may include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, dietary changes/restrictions, or lifestyle modifications.

However, if you have some time to wait before your GP appointment, try incorporating some of the previously mentioned tips to ease the discomfort and reduce your symptoms.

Remember, diarrhoea is no fun, but there are ways to manage it – no matter if your case is temporary or chronic!

If you wish to discuss any of the above issues with me, or if you have any questions relating to any of my other blogs please contact me info@lesleyreiddietitian.co.uk

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