When Should You See Your Doctor About Acute Diarrhoea?

If you’re experiencing diarrhoea that isn’t showing any signs of stopping, you might start to worry. You may wonder about how it will affect others in your household or wonder if you are likely to become dehydrated.

Although you do not need to see a GP for every bout of diarrhoea, sometimes the nature of the situation makes doing so necessary. By learning more about some common red flag symptoms, you can make the best choices for your health.

You Are Showing Signs of Dehydration

When you have diarrhoea, your body loses electrolytes at a faster rate than usual. Because you rely on electrolytes to maintain a healthy water balance, this means that more water passes through your gut wall than normal. One consequence of this is diarrhoea. If you’re experiencing the following signs and symptoms, consider contacting your GP:

  • Darker urine than normal
  • Increased urine output
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling excessively thirsty
  • Dry tongue
  • Feeling weak
  • Weight loss
  • Dry skin
  • Loss of skin elasticity (especially in children)
  • Sunken eyes (in children)
  • Fewer nappies

In many cases, your GP may provide more self-care advice. If you can’t reach them because you’re calling outside of office hours, speak with an out-of-hours doctor instead. If you’re caring for someone else who has diarrhoea, watch out for signs of confusion and loss of consciousness. Both can indicate severe fluid loss, which requires rapid intravenous fluid replacement.

You Have Prolonged Bouts of Diarrhoea

If your diarrhoea lasts for 48 hours or more and it’s not showing signs of slowing down, call your doctor. Prolonged diarrhoea sometimes suggests an infectious cause. Your doctor may need more information about recent hospital stays, antibiotic use, and your diet.

Babies require extra caution when it comes to approaching medical professionals about diarrhoea. Their ability to recover after acute fluid loss isn’t as good as an adult’s, so they may need extra support. If your baby has diarrhoea for more than 24 hours, speak to a medical professional.

Your Abdominal Pain Is Severe

In a small number of cases, severe abdominal pain alongside runny stools suggests there’s something serious happening. It may be that you’ve caught a severe bacterial infection, and occasionally, severe pain is a sign of appendicitis.

Very occasionally, diarrhoea and severe pain are signs of a bowel obstruction. Regardless of what you suspect the cause is, you should seek prompt medical attention.

If you’re struggling to determine whether your pain is mild, moderate, or severe, consider grading it on a scale of one to 10, with one being mild and 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever had. Alternatively, if you’re caring for a young child, look for signs such as severe distress.

Your Stools Are Bloody or Black

Bloody and black stools may indicate that you’re bleeding somewhere in your gastrointestinal tract. If your stools are black, the blood has had time to congeal. These types of stools may even seem tar-like and they may look sticky.

In contrast, fresh blood that mixes in with your stools indicates that there’s bleeding from the lower gastrointestinal tract. If you’ve recently experienced abdominal trauma but you haven’t yet seen a medical professional, seek emergency medical attention to stay safe.

Understandably, you may sometimes wonder whether it’s worth speaking to your GP or not. There are certain cases where it’s safer to remain cautious rather than waiting to see if the problem gets worse. This includes very young children, very old people, those who are immunocompromised, and pregnant women.

When managing the problem out of hours, you can always speak to an out-of-hours doctor such as Hello Home Doctor Service.