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When Your Child Has Diarrhea

Diarrhea is defined as loose bowel movements that are more frequent and watery than usual. It’s one of the most common illnesses in children. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration (loss of too much water from the body), which can be serious. So, preventing dehydration is important in managing your child’s diarrhea.

What Causes Diarrhea?

Diarrhea may be caused by:

  • Bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections (such as Salmonella, rotavirus, or Giardia)

  • Food intolerances (such as dairy products)

  • Medications (such as antibiotics)

  • Intestinal illness (such as Crohn’s disease)

What Are Common Symptoms of Diarrhea?

  • Looser, more watery stools than normal

  • More frequent stools than normal

  • More urgent need to pass stool than normal

  • Pain or spasms of the digestive tract

How is Diarrhea Diagnosed?

The doctor examines your child. You’ll be asked about your child’s symptoms, health, and daily routine. The doctor may also order lab tests, such as stool studies or blood tests. These tests can help detect problems that may be causing your child’s diarrhea.

Woman helping toddler sitting in high chair to drink from sippy cup.
Have your child drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration from diarrhea.

How is Diarrhea Treated?

The doctor can talk to you about the treatment options. These may include:

  • Preventing dehydration by giving your child plenty of fluids (such as water). Infants may also be given a children’s electrolyte solution. Limit fruit juice or soda, which has a lot of sugar.

  • Giving your child prescribed medication to treat the cause of the diarrhea. DON’T give your child antidiarrheal medications unless told to by your child’s doctor.

  • Eating starchy foods such as cereal, crackers, or rice.

  • Removing certain foods from your child’s diet if they are causing the diarrhea. Your child may need to avoid dairy products and foods high in fat or sugar until the diarrhea has passed. However, most children can eat a regular diet, which will actually help them recover more quickly. 

 Call the Doctor if Your Otherwise Healthy Child

  • Has fever or diarrhea that lasts longer than 3 days.

  • Has a fever :

    • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F  (38ºC) or higher

    • In a child of any age who has a temperature that rises repeatedly to 104°F (40ºC) or higher

    • A fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old or for 3 days in a child 2 years older.

    • Has a seizure caused by the fever 

  • Is unable to keep down any food or water.

  • Shows signs of dehydration (very dark or little urine, no tears when crying, dry mouth, or dizziness).

  • Has blood or pus in the stool, or black, tarry stool.

  • Looks or acts very sick.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Grantham, Paula, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/31/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.