Serving all people by providing personalized health and wellness through exemplary care, education and research.
Explore health content from A to Z.
I need information about...
Return to Index
Diarrhea is the sudden increase in the frequency and looseness of stools
The main risk of diarrhea is dehydration
Loose or runny stools do not cause dehydration
Frequent, watery stools can cause dehydration
Viral gastroenteritis (viral infection of the stomach and intestines) is the usual cause
Bacteria (e.g., Salmonella or Shigella) cause some diarrhea. The main food-borne bacteria are Campylobacter,Salmonella and E.coli.
Food-poisoning: Rapid onset of vomiting and diarrhea within hours after eating a food contaminated with toxins (e.g. cream dishes that are not properly refrigerated). The symptoms usually resolve in less than 24 hours without a need for medical care.
Giardia (a parasite) occasionally, especially in child care centers
Dehydration: How to Recognize
Dehydration means that the body has lost excessive fluids, usually from vomiting and/or diarrhea. An associated weight loss of more than 3% is required. In general, mild diarrhea, mild vomiting or a mild decrease in fluid intake does not cause dehydration.
Dehydration is the most important complication of diarrhea.
The following are signs of dehydration:
Decreased urination (no urine in more than 8 hours) occurs early in the process of dehydration. So does a dark yellow, concentrated yellow. If the urine is light straw colored, your child is not dehydrated.
Dry tongue and inside of the mouth. Dry lips are not helpful.
Dry eyes with decreased or absent tears
In infants, a depressed or sunken soft spot
Delayed capillary refill longer than 2 seconds. This refers to the return of a pink color to the thumbnail after you press it and make it pale. Ask your doctor to teach you how to do this test.
Irritable, tired out or acting ill. If your child is alert, happy and playful, he or she is not dehydrated.
A child with severe dehydration becomes too weak to stand or very dizzy if tries to stand.
Definition of Diarrhea in Breastfed Infants
The stools of a breastfed infant are normal unless they contain mucus or blood or develop a new bad odor.
The looseness (normally runny and seedy), color (normally yellow) and frequency of stools (normally more than 6/day) are not much help. Breastfed babies may normally even pass some green stools surrounded by a water ring (normal bile can come out green if intestinal transit time is rapid enough).
During the first 1 to 2 months of life, the breastfed baby may normally pass a stool after each feeding. (However, if an infant's stools abruptly increase in number and looseness and persist for 3 or more stools, the baby probably has diarrhea.)
Other clues to diarrhea are poor eating, acting sick, or a fever.
Definition of Diarrhea in Formula-Fed Infants
Formula-fed babies pass 1 to 8 stools per day during the first week, then 1 to 4 per day until 2 months of age.
The stools are yellow in color and peanut butter in consistency.
Formula-fed newborns have true diarrhea if the stools abruptly increase in number or looseness and persist for 3 or more stools, become watery or very runny, contain mucus or blood or develop a new bad odor.
Other clues to diarrhea are poor eating, acting sick or a fever.
After 2 months of age, most infants pass 1 or 2 stools per day (or 1 every other day) and no longer appear to have mild diarrhea.
Return to School
Your child can return to child care or school after the stools are formed and the fever is gone. The school-aged child can return if the diarrhea is mild and the child has good control over loose stools.
Vomiting is also present along with diarrhea, see VOMITING WITH DIARRHEA
Blood present and no diarrhea, see STOOLS, BLOOD IN
Not moving or too weak to stand
Your child looks or acts very sick
Signs of dehydration (e.g., no urine over 8 hours, no tears with crying and very dry mouth)
Blood in the stool
Weak immune system (sickle cell disease, HIV, chemotherapy, organ transplant, chronic steroids, etc)
Abdominal pain present over 2 hours
Vomiting clear liquids 3 or more times
Age under 1 month with 3 or more diarrhea stools (mucus, bad odor, increased looseness)
Passed more than 8 diarrhea stools in the last 8 hours
Severe diarrhea while taking a medicine that could cause diarrhea (e.g., antibiotics)
Fever over 104° F (40° C) and not improved 2 hours after fever medicine
Age under 12 weeks with fever above 100.4° F (38.0° C) rectally (Caution: Do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen.)
You think your child needs to be seen urgently
You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
Pus in the stool present for over 2 days
Loss of bowel control in a toilet trained child occurs 3 or more times
Fever present for more than 3 days
Close contact with person or animal who has bacterial diarrhea
Contact with reptile (snake, lizard, turtle) in previous 14 days
Travel to country at risk for bacterial diarrhea within past month
You have other questions or concerns
Diarrhea persists over 2 weeks
Loose stools are a chronic problem
Mild diarrhea (probably viral gastroenteritis) and you don't think your child needs to be seen
Most diarrhea is caused by a viral infection of the intestines.
Diarrhea is the body's way of getting rid of the germs.
Here are some tips on how to keep ahead of the fluid losses.
Continue regular diet.
Eat more starchy foods (e.g., cereal, crackers, rice).
Drink more fluids. Formula or milk are good balanced fluids for diarrhea. (EXCEPTION: avoid all fruit juices and soft drinks because they make diarrhea worse).
Formula-Fed Infants WITH frequent, watery diarrhea: Start Oral Rehydration Solutions (ORS)
ORS (e.g., Pedialyte or the store brand) is a special electrolyte solution that can prevent dehydration. It's readily available in supermarkets and drug stores.
Start ORS for frequent, watery diarrhea (Note: Formula is fine for average diarrhea).
Use ORS alone for 4 to 6 hours to prevent dehydration. Offer unlimited amounts.
If ORS not available, use formula prepared in the usual way (unlimited amounts) until you can get some.
Avoid Jello water, sports drinks, or fruit juice.
Returning to Formula
Go back to formula by 6 hours at the latest. (Reason: needs the calories)
Use formula prepared in the usual way. (Reason: It contains adequate water).
Offer the formula more frequently than you normally do.
Lactose: Regular formula is fine for most diarrhea. Lactose-free formulas (soy formula) are only needed for watery diarrhea persisting over 3 days.
Extra ORS: also give 2-4 ounces (60-120 mls) of ORS after every large watery stool.
Infants over 4 months old: Continue solids (e.g., rice cereal, strained bananas, mashed potatoes, etc).
Breastfed Infants WITH frequent, watery diarrhea:
Continue breastfeeding at more frequent intervals. Continue solids as for formula-fed.
Offer 2-4 ounces (60-120 mls) ORS (e.g., Pedialyte) after every large watery stool (especially if urine is dark) in addition to breastfeedings.
Older Children (over 1 year old) WITH frequent, watery diarrhea:
Fluids: Offer unlimited fluids. If taking solids, give water or half-strength Gatorade. If refuses solids, give milk or formula.
Avoid all fruit juices and soft drinks. (Reason: makes diarrhea worse)
ORS (e.g., Pedialyte) is rarely needed, but for severe diarrhea, also give 4-8 ounces (120-240ml) of ORS after every large watery stool.
Solids: Starchy foods are absorbed best. Give dried cereals, oatmeal, bread, crackers, noodles, mashed potatoes, rice, etc. Pretzels or salty crackers can help meet sodium needs.
Probiotics contain healthy bacteria (Lactobacilli) that can replace unhealthy bacteria in the GI tract.
YOGURT is the easiest source of probiotics. If over 12 months old, give 2 to 6 oz (60 to 180 ml) of yogurt twice daily. (Note: Today, almost all yogurts are "active culture".)
Probiotic supplements in granules, tablets or capsules are also available in health food stores.
Diaper Rash: Wash buttocks after each stool to prevent a bad diaper rash. Consider applying a protective ointment (e.g., petroleum jelly) around the anus to protect the skin.
Contagiousness: Your child can return to child care or school after the stools are formed and the fever is gone. The school-aged child can return if the diarrhea is mild and the child has good control over loose stools.
Expected Course: Viral diarrhea lasts 5-14 days. Severe diarrhea only occurs on the first 1 or 2 days, but loose stools can persist for 1 to 2 weeks.
Call Your Doctor If:
Signs of dehydration occur
Your child becomes worse
Copyright © 2017 Baylor Scott & White Health. All Rights Reserved. |
3500 Gaston Ave., Dallas, TX 75246-2017 | 1.800.4BAYLOR