A common cause of diarrhoea in both children and adults is gastroenteritis, which is an infection of the bowel.
Bouts of diarrhoea in adults may also be brought on by anxiety or drinking too much coffee or alcohol. Diarrhoea may also be a side effect of a medicine.
In adults, diarrhoea caused by gastroenteritis will usually clear up in two to four days when the infection has cleared. If it lasts for more than a few weeks it may be a sign of a more serious condition and should be investigated by your doctor, especially if there is blood or pus in your faeces.
Diarrhoea in children usually passes within five to seven days, and will often clear within two weeks. Seek medical advice if your child has diarrhoea for longer than this.
If a baby or child has had six or more episodes of diarrhoea in the last 24 hours, then see your doctor. It can be serious in babies because of the risk of dehydration.
Facts & figures
While statistics are not kept on how many people have diarrhoea in Australia, it is a serious problem in poorer countries around the world. Some key facts to keep in mind are:
There are about 2 billion cases of diarrhoeal disease every year.
Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years of age and kills about 1.5 million children every year.
Diarrhoeal disease mainly affects children younger than two years of age and is a leading cause of malnutrition in children under five years of age.