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Symptoms of diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is when you need to poo more often than you normally do. It can be a mild side effect of treatment but for some people it can be severe. Tell your doctor if you have diarrhoea. 

Common signs and symptoms of diarrhoea

Diarrhoea usually means having more than 3 unformed stools in a 24 hour period.  

Look out for:

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

Other symptoms you might 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 might be a sign that you have diarrhoea.

Symptoms of severe diarrhoea

Severe diarrhoea can cause you to lose a lot of fluid and become dehydrated. This can make you very ill if you don't have treatment. 

It is important to 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

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.

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 might recommend some medicines.

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

Last reviewed: 
18 Jul 2019
  • Diarrhoea in adult cancer patients: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines

    P. Bossi and others

    Annals of Oncology. 2018, Volume 29, Supplement 4. 

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