Symptoms of diarrhoea | Cancer Research UK
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Symptoms of diarrhoea

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This page tells you about the signs and symptoms of diarrhoea. You can find information about


Common signs and symptoms of diarrhoea

About 1 out of every 10 people with cancer (10%) will have diarrhoea at some time during their illness. You need to know what is normal for you when deciding whether you have diarrhoea or not. Generally, diarrhoea means

  • An increase in the number of bowel movements you have each day
  • An increase in the amount (volume) of poo (stools or faeces) you have in a day
  • A change in the way your poo looks (it goes from solid to soft or watery)

Other symptoms you may notice are

  • Cramping pains in your tummy (abdomen)
  • Feeling sick
  • Needing to get to the toilet urgently
  • A bloated feeling in the tummy

If you have a colostomy or ileostomy and you are emptying your stoma bag more often than normal, it may be a sign that you have diarrhoea.


Symptoms of severe diarrhoea

If your diarrhoea becomes very severe, you can lose a lot of fluids (dehydration) and this can make you very ill if it isn’t treated. You may have a serious infection that is making your diarrhoea worse.

So it’s important that you see your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms

  • A high temperature (fever) or chills
  • Signs of dehydration such as feeling very thirsty, a rapid heart beat, feeling or being sick, and dark urine
  • Blood or mucus in your poo
  • Severe cramping and tummy pain

When to contact your doctor or nurse

Having continuous diarrhoea can make you very dehydrated. This can cause more serious problems. It is very important that you let your doctor or nurse know if you think you are losing more fluid than you are able to drink.

Sometimes it can be hard to know when to call your doctor or nurse because you don’t want to bother them. You may feel embarrassed about talking about diarrhoea.

Roadshow nurse talking to a visitor

You may worry about what is causing your diarrhoea but it’s better to tell your doctor or nurse as soon as you have the first signs of diarrhoea. They will understand and want to help. They can advise you on how to manage your diarrhoea and may recommend some medicines.

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Updated: 20 May 2014