If you have diarrhoea

Diarrhoea usually means that you need to pass more bowel motions in a day than is normal for you, and the stools you pass are looser than normal.

It can be caused by chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapies and surgery. The treatments can affect the healthy cells that line the digestive tract, which causes diarrhoea. Sometimes other medications, such as antibiotics, or an infection can also cause diarrhoea.

Diarrhoea can be a temporary, mild side effect. But for some people, it can be severe and they will need to see a doctor to help manage it. Tell your doctor if you have diarrhoea or if it is getting worse. They can investigate the cause, and prescribe anti-diarrhoea medicines.

Sometimes diarrhoea can be severe and it’s important to contact the hospital if this happens. If you have more than 4–6 episodes of diarrhoea a day, contact the hospital on the numbers you’ve been given and speak to a doctor or nurse.

Some tips to help with diarrhoea:

  • Make sure you drink plenty of liquid (up to two litres a day) to replace the fluid lost with the diarrhoea, but avoid alcohol and coffee.
  • Eat small, frequent meals made from light foods such as dairy produce, white fish, poultry, well-cooked eggs, white bread, pasta or rice. Eat your meals slowly.
  • Eat less fibre (cereals, raw fruits and vegetables) until the diarrhoea improves.
  • Avoid greasy, fatty foods such as chips and beefburgers, and spicy foods like chilli peppers.
  • Acidophilus or other bacteria found in live yoghurt or live yoghurt drinks may help ease diarrhoea caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill off the healthy bacteria normally found in the bowel, but the bacteria found in live yoghurt may replace them. However, you should avoid live yoghurt while you’re having chemotherapy or if your immunity is low.

If your diarrhoea is caused by radiotherapy or chemotherapy, changing your diet is unlikely to help. It’s important that you take the anti-diarrhoea medicines prescribed by your doctor. If you have diarrhoea after surgery for bowel cancer, discuss it with your doctor or specialist nurse before changing your diet.