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Acute Diarrhea In Children


What do I need to know about acute diarrhea?

Acute diarrhea starts quickly and lasts a short time, usually less than 7 days. It can last up to 2 weeks. Your child may have several loose bowel movements throughout the day. Acute diarrhea usually stops on its own.

What causes acute diarrhea?

  • Bacteria such as E coli or salmonella
  • Viruses such as rotavirus or norovirus
  • Food allergies, such as with lactose products (milk or cheese) or soy protein
  • Contaminated food, such as meat that is undercooked
  • Contaminated water, such as water from a stream
  • Medical treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation
  • Medicines, such as laxatives, antacids, or antibiotics
  • Other infections such as an ear infection or urinary tract infection

What other signs and symptoms may happen with acute diarrhea?

  • A rash
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Symptoms of dehydration such as dry mouth and lips, crying without tears, dark yellow urine, and urinating little or not at all

What does my healthcare provider need to know about my child's acute diarrhea?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's diarrhea, such as what it looks like and when it started. He may ask if your child has any blood or mucus in his diarrhea. He will ask what your child has eaten recently and if he has traveled. He will ask what medicines your child uses or if he has been around anyone who is sick. Tell your healthcare provider about any other symptoms your child has. Your healthcare provider may check your child for signs and symptoms of dehydration.

How can I manage my child's acute diarrhea?

  • Give your child plenty of liquids. This will help to prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid your child should drink each day and which liquids are best for him.
  • Continue to feed your child regular foods. Your child can continue to eat the foods he normally eats. This includes breast milk and formula for infants. You may need to feed your child smaller amounts of food than normal. You may also need to give your child foods that he can tolerate. These may include rice, potatoes, and bread. It also includes fruits (bananas, melon), well-cooked vegetables, lean meats, yogurt, and skim or 1% milk. Avoid giving your child foods that are high in fiber, fat, and sugar.
  • Give your child oral rehydration solution as directed. Oral rehydration solution (ORS) has the right amounts of water, salts, and sugar that your child needs to replace lost body fluids. Ask what kind of ORS your child needs, how much he should drink, and where to get it.

How can I help prevent acute diarrhea in my child?

  • Remind your child to wash his hands well and often. He should always wash his hands with soap and water after using the toilet and before he eats.
  • Keep bathroom surfaces clean to help prevent the spread of germs that cause acute diarrhea.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating.
  • Wash kitchen counters and cooking utensils well after you have prepared any raw meats.
  • Place raw meat in the refrigerator as soon as possible after shopping at the supermarket. Bacteria can grow in meat that is left at room temperature too long. Cook meat thoroughly before eating. Place leftovers in the refrigerator as soon as possible.
  • Do not give your child unsterilized water or uncooked vegetables when you travel to foreign countries.
  • Ask your child's healthcare provider about the rotavirus vaccine. This vaccine helps to prevent diarrhea caused by the rotavirus.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has a fever higher than 102°F.
  • Your child cannot drink any liquids.
  • Your child cries without tears.
  • Your child has blood in his bowel movements.
  • Your child's eyes look sunken in, or the soft spot on your infant's head looks sunken in.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child seems confused and is not answering you, or you cannot wake him.
  • Your child has severe abdominal pain.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has worsening abdominal pain.
  • Your child is more irritable, fussy, or tired than usual.
  • Your child has a dry mouth and lips.
  • Your child has dry, cool skin.
  • Your child urinates less than usual, or his urine is dark yellow.
  • Your child is losing weight.
  • Your child's diarrhea lasts longer than 1 to 2 weeks.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2017 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.