Acute diarrhoea
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Acute diarrhoea

What is diarrhoea ?

Diarrhoea is characterised by a sudden change in the frequency and consistency of the stools. It is when there are three or more soft stools or liquid bowel movements per day. 1, 2

If the diarrhoea lasts less than 2 weeks, it is called “acute diarrhoea”.1

The majority of episodes of acute diarrhoea are infectious: they are the result of viral infections in the gut (the most frequent cause of diarrhoea) or of bacterial infections.1, 2 Acute viral diarrhoea often resolves within 24 – 48 hours2 – in many cases the body heals itself.2

Acute diarrhoea occurs very frequently: each year most people will experience at least one episode of acute diarrhoea.3 Most of these episodes are brief, and diarrhoea caused by a virus usually resolves by itself in 24 – 48 hours.2

Causes of diarrhoea

Traveller’s diarrhoea

Travellers’ diarrhoea is usually infectious and can affect you on a trip where hygiene regulations are not always enforced. 4

Read our article on Traveller’s diarrhoea


 Gastroenteritis as cause of acute diarrhoea

Acute gastro-enteritis is an inflammation of the mucosa in the digestive system, responsible for diarrhoea and frequently, for abdominal pain and vomiting 5. This is a very frequent occurrence: approximately 1 in 6 people develop gastroenteritis every year.5

Read our special gastrointestinal page

Stress related diarrhoea

The link between stress and diarrhoea is well documented : stress accelerates the rate of transit of stools through the small intestine and the colon, and an episode of stress can be responsible for diarrhoea. 6

Food-induced diarrhoea

 Food-induced diarrhoea

Acute diarrhoea can also be caused by food5– toxicity from food elements that are contaminated5 Many food substances can cause diarrhoea if they are contaminated5: salads, unpeeled fruit, raw or poorly cooked seafood7, and unpasteurised milk products.5,8

1: Dupont C, Vernisse B. Anti-Diarrheal Effects of Diosmectite in the Treatment of Acute Diarrhea in Children. A Review. Pediatr Drugs 2009;11(2):80-99.
2: Greenberger NJ. Diarrhoea in Adults. MSD Manual Consumer Version. Diarrhea in Adults. [Accessed 5 November 2019]
3: Khediri F, Mrad AI, Azzouz M, Doughi H, Najjar T, Mathiex-Fortunet H, et al. Efficacy od Diosmectite (Smecta®) in the Treatment of Acute Watery Diarrhoea in Adults: A Multicentre, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel Group Study. Gastroenterology Research and Practice 2011: Article ID 783196 1-8.  doi:10.1155/2011/783196
4: Steffen R, Hill DR, Du Pont HL. Travelers Diarrhea A Clinical Review. JAMA 2015;313(1):71-80. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.17006. [Accessed 5 November 2019]
5: Boyce TG. Gastroenteritis. MSD Manual Consumer Version [Accessed 5 November 2019]
6: Mertz H. Stress and the Gut. UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders. UNC School of Medicine. MED.UNC.EDU/IBS
7: Yates J. Traveler’s Diarrhea. American Family Physician. 2005;71(11):2095-2100.
8: Foods and Beverages that Can Cause Diarhea. MSD Manual Consumer Version.’s%20diarrhoea [Accessed 5 November 2011]
9: Moshabela M, MacPhearson P, Ezrad N, Frean E, Mashimbye L, Elliot J et al. Clinical and social determinants of diarrhoeal disease in a rural HIV/AIDS clinic, South Africa: a case-control study. Int J STD AIDS 2012;23(5):346-350. doi:10.1258/ijsa_2011.011285.