We all get occasional episodes of diarrhoea. It's usually a short-term event brought on by an infection or something you've eaten. A few days later and all is well. For some people diarrhoea happens much more frequently. If it's happening a lot it can leave you feeling out of control and anxious. Whatever the cause there are steps you can take to help manage it.
1. Find the cause
There are several reasons why you may be having diarrhoea frequently. Pin-pointing the cause can help get it under control. It could be a food allergy or intolerance. It may be an autoimmune condition like Crohn's disease or other inflammatory gastrointestinal condition such as ulcerative colitis. These are types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that need specialist treatment and medication. Seek medical advice to establish a diagnosis.
Most likely though, it will be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with frequent diarrhoea as a symptom (IBS-D). It's estimated that up to 1 in 5 people in the UK experience IBS at some point. IBD is different from IBS and needs different treatments.
2. Keep a diary
To give yourself more control over what's happening try to work out any pattern to your diarrhoea. Note down when you are eating and then how soon after you are going to the toilet. You can use paper and pen, a computer spreadsheet or a mobile app to keep track of your habits.
"If you think about your triggers it may help you be in control," says leading IBS expert Dr Nick Read.
"Ask yourself is there a reason it flares up on a Monday or when you go on holiday, for example. Try to think about why that may be," adds Nick who's a psychotherapist who treats people with IBS. "Look for the connection between mind and body."
3. Try not to panic
When you feel the urgency that comes with diarrhoea it's easy to be anxious and worry that you won't make it to the toilet. If you panic your body is more likely to have a stress-response, which can lead to a loosening of the bowels. If you tell yourself to stay calm, that everything is going to be fine, you'll be more able to get the urgency feeling under control. Try to deep breathe through the episode to relax your mind rather than getting caught up in anxiety.
4. Be prepared
If you are worried about a potential accident carry an emergency kit with you. "This could include an anti- diarrhoeal, wet wipes, tissues, spare underwear, panty liners/incontinence pads and a fragranced body spray," says Wendy Green author of 'IBS: a self-help guide to feeling better'.
Just knowing you have it just in case can make you less anxious and less likely to need it.
Sara is a member of The IBS Network, a charity to support people with the condition, and has had IBS-D for more than 20 years. She says, "I try to be as prepared as possible, including using [medication], and eating very plain food before any social situation. I try to control the amount of time I am away from home to the minimum possible as I still fear that I can only 'control' my IBS-D for a limited period of time."