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Diarrhoea is a condition where a person passes looser stools more frequently than is normal for them. It can happen in most people at some point in their lifetime and is usually not serious but can be quite distressing and unpleasant.
It usually takes anything from a couple of days to up to a week to pass.
There are many causes of diarrhoea but gastroenteritis (tummy bug) is the most common in both adults and children.
Gastroenteritis can be caused by:
• a virus (norovirus, rotavirus)
• bacteria such as E.coli which is picked up from contaminated food
• parasites – sometimes found in contaminated water.
These infections are likely to occur during travel abroad especially to areas with poor hygiene. This is also known as travellers diarrhoea.
Diarrhoea can also be caused by:
• food allergies
• certain medications
• certain medical conditions like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
Diarrhoea is categorised as passing of frequent, watery and loose stools. Other symptoms that can accompany include:
• stomach cramps
• nausea and vomiting
• loss of appetite
The excessive water loss in stools can also result in dehydration which can be serious if not treated quickly.
Diarrhoea usually clears up after a few days without the need for treatment.
However, it can lead to dehydration so it is advised to drink plenty of fluids in small, frequent sips until the diarrhoea passes. This is especially important in babies and children who can get dehydrated very quickly. Oral rehydration salts such as Dioralyte are recommended if there is a risk of dehydration and are suitable for adults, children and babies.
Medications such as loperamide (Imodium) are also available to control episodes of diarrhoea in adults and children aged over 12 years.
It is recommended to stay at home after the last episode of diarrhoea to prevent spreading infection to others.
You should avoid fatty, oily or spicy foods if suffering from diarrhoea. Meals should be kept small and light.
It is important to contact your GP if the diarrhoea is particularly frequent or persistent and is presenting with additional symptoms such as:
• blood in stools
• persistent vomiting
• severe or continuous stomach ache
• weight loss
• signs of dehydration – drowsiness, light headedness, dizziness, passing urine infrequently
• dark or black stools – this could be a sign of internal bleeding inside your stomach
Wash hands thoroughly after going to the toilet and before eating or preparing food.
Clean the toilet with disinfectant after each bout of diarrhoea.
Avoid sharing towels or cutlery with other members of your household.
It is also important to practice good food and water hygiene when travelling abroad such as avoiding tap water and under cooked and unwashed food.