What your diarrhoea is telling you

Written by: Dr Alberto Murino
Published: | Updated: 25/02/2020
Edited by: Robert Smith

We all experience loose bowel movements at some point in our lives. We recently spoke to Dr Alberto Murino, a leading consultant gastroenterologist, about diarrhoea. Dr Murino shares with us the exact definition, what the colour of our faeces says about our health and what some of the more serious symptoms are to look out for.


So what exactly is diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is defined as three or more bowel motions in 24 hours with increased water stool content (Bristol chart 5-7). Diarrhoea is defined as acute when it persists for less than 14 days and is chronic for more than 30 days. If diarrhoea resolved between 14 to 30 days it is then defined as persistent diarrhoea.

The most common cause of diarrhoea is generally infective in nature.


What does the colour of diarrhoea indicate?

All shadows of brown represent the standard and physiological colour of the stool, which is produced by the stercobilinogen (fecal urobilinogen).

Light colour or white stools can be linked with the lack of bile in the stools, due to reduced bile excretion.

Black tarry stools (also called melena) may be caused by upper gastrointestinal bleeding and it is usually associated with an unpleasant smell.

Yellowish stools can be caused by the presence of undigested fat in the stools. This can be associated with pancreatic insufficiency or malabsorption disorders.

The presence of blood in the stools is associated with a lower gastrointestinal bleeding and/or haemorrhoids.


If diarrhoea happens occasionally, should I still go to the doctor?

If diarrhoea is occasional, occurring a few times a month, in a patient younger than 50, with no family history of bowel cancer and no blood in the stools there is no need to see a doctor. However, if the episodes of diarrhoea increase happening more frequently, an appointment with a GP is recommended.


What does it mean when diarrhoea is accompanied by vomiting?

If the diarrhoea is accompanied by vomiting and resolved within a couple of days, the nature of the diarrhoea is likely to be infective.


When should I seek help from a specialist?

A referral to a gastroenterologist should be reserved for patients with:

  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Presence of blood in the stool or melena
  • New onset diarrhoea in patients older than 50 years
  • Nocturnal diarrhoea
  • Diarrhoea associated with weight loss
  • Diarrhoea in patients with first degree relatives with colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Diarrhoea with raised faecal calprotectin

If you’re suffering from persistent or chronic diarrhoea, it’s recommended that you book an appointment with a top gastroenterologist such as Dr Alberto Murino. Visit his Top Doctors profile today for more information.

By Dr Alberto Murino

Dr Alberto Murino is a consultant gastroenterologist based in London. He specialises in endoscopy, colonoscopy, gastroscopy, acid reflux, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

He qualified as a doctor in 2009 in Italy before proceeding to complete three research fellowships at prestigious institutions, the first at St. Mark’s Institute and Academic Centre, Imperial College, London, the second at Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium, and the third at Nagoya University Hospital, Japan. He then worked as Consultant Gastroenterologist in Italy until 2016, when he moved to England. 

 He is an honorary associate professor at the University College London (UCL) and is a member of various official gastrointestinal societies. He attends his private patients in central London in Wellington Hospital and at the Royal Free Hospital Private Patients Unit. Dr Murino treats a large number of London-based Italian nationals in his clinic.

Dr Murino has written more than 30 peer-reviewed publications. His research has a strong focus on endoscopies and he has presented his work at national and international medical conferences. He was awarded by UEG (United European Gastroenterology) Week 2014 for his research that he conducted during his research fellowship in Japan. He is now a co-director of The Royal Free International Advanced Endoscopy Masterclass, a large international endoscopy congress. 

View Profile

Overall assessment of their patients

  • Related procedures
  • Nutrition
    Food intolerance test
    Eating disorders
    Balloon enteroscopy
    pH monitoring
    Stomach reduction
    Gastric balloon
    Colon cleanse
    This website uses our own and third-party Cookies to compile information with the aim of improving our services, to show you advertising related to your preferences as well analysing your browsing habits. You can change your settings HERE.