What is diarrhea?

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Diarrhea is defined either as watery stool or increased frequency (or both) when compared to a normal amount. It is a common problem that may last a few days and disappear on its own.

Diarrhea may be:

  • Acute (short-term, lasting less than two weeks), which is usually related to bacterial or viral infections.
  • Chronic (long-term, lasting longer than two weeks), which is usually related to functional disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or may be due to diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, celiac sprue or Giardia.

What causes diarrhea?

Diarrhea in children may be caused by a number of conditions, including the following:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Viral infection
  • Food intolerances or allergies
  • Parasites
  • Reaction to medications

What are the symptoms of diarrhea?

The following are the most common symptoms for diarrhea. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Severe diarrhea may indicate a serious disease, making it important to consult your child's physician if any or all of the following symptoms persist:

  • Cramping
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Urgent need to use the restroom
  • Fever
  • Bloody stools

The symptoms of diarrhea may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

Warning signs of severe diarrhea:

You should call your pediatrician if your child is less than 6 months of age or presents any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stool
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Loss of appetite for liquids
  • High fever
  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Weight loss
  • Urinates less frequently (wets fewer than 6 diapers per day)
  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Extreme thirst
  • No tears when crying

How is diarrhea diagnosed?

In addition to a complete physical examination and laboratory tests for blood and urine, the child's physician may request:

  • Laboratory examination of stool sample
  • Additional blood tests

Treatment for diarrhea:

Specific treatment for diarrhea will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health and medical history
  • Extent of the condition
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • The expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment usually involves replacing lost fluids. Antibiotics may be prescribed when bacterial infections are the cause.

A child with diarrhea can have regular fluids or special fluids (such as Pedialyte™ or Gatorade™) for diarrhea. Do not use anti-diarrheal medications unless recommended by your child's physician.

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