Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is passing bowel motions (stools or poo) more often than usual. The motions can be soft and watery. Some cancers, cancer treatments and other health problems can cause diarrhoea.

If you are likely to develop diarrhoea, your doctor will advise you about medication that can help to relieve it. Make sure you take these medications as advised.

If you have severe uncontrolled diarrhoea, blood in your bowel motions, or severe stomach pains with bloating, you need medical attention.

Use the contact numbers you have been given. If you can’t get hold of anyone, go to your nearest hospital emergency department for assessment.

Be prepared

Know what to expect

Not all treatments or cancers cause diarrhoea. Ask your doctor or nurse whether you are likely to get diarrhoea, and how to manage it. 

Some chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments can cause severe diarrhoea. People on these treatments, should get medical help urgently if they have diarrhoea.

Understand your anti-diarrhoea medications

If you are likely to get diarrhoea, your doctor will tell you what medicines you can take to stop or reduce it. Make sure you understand how you should take them.

Start a symptom diary

Keeping track of your symptoms can help you and your cancer care team to manage them better.

Talk to your doctor or nurse to see if there is a diary they recommend, or use the example provided on this page.

Know who to contact if you have a problem

Ask your doctor or nurse:

  • when you should call for help or advice
  • who you should contact
  • how to contact them (including at night or weekends).

Keep this information where you can easily find it.

Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Managing symptoms

Avoiding dehydration from diarrhoea

Diarrhoea causes your body to lose fluids. This can result in dehydration which is a serious problem. To keep your fluid levels up, have regular sips of water or other liquids.

Signs of dehydration include:

  • you feel light headed or dizzy or confused
  • your heart feels as if it is skipping or going very fast
  • you have a severe headache
  • you don’t pass as much as urine (wee) as usual, or it is a very dark colour.

Dehydration and confusion can happen quickly. Ask someone to stay with you if you have continuing diarrhoea, and get medical help urgently if you have signs of dehydration.

Managing diarrhoea

Take your anti-diarrhoea medication as advised by your doctor or nurse. Try to keep drinking fluids.

If you usually take medicine to keep your bowel motions regular, stop taking this when diarrhoea starts.

Avoid drinks and foods that may increase diarrhoea. 

You can also ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a dietitian who can help with advice on what to eat and drink.  

Severe diarrhoea

If you have severe uncontrolled diarrhoea, blood in your bowel motions, or severe stomach pains with bloating, you need medical attention.

Use the contact numbers you have been given. If you can’t get hold of anyone, go to your nearest hospital emergency department for assessment.

Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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