Welcome to the Patient Education Library of Children’s Health Care
Pediatrics - Diarrhea
Diarrhea is a very common condition for people of all ages. A viral infection, such as the stomach flu, or a bacterial infection most frequently causes diarrhea. Less commonly, diarrhea is associated with an underlying medical condition.
Symptoms include the passing of frequent stools that are loose, watery, and soft. Diarrhea may also cause bloating, pain, cramps, and gas. Most cases of diarrhea are treated at home and resolve in a few days. Maintaining hydration is the goal of home care. Severe diarrhea can be associated with serious medical complications and require hospitalization
Whenever your child eats and drinks, food travels through your child’s digestive system for processing. Your child’s body absorbs nutrients and removes waste products via his or her digestive system. When your child eats, his or her tongue moves chewed food to the back of the throat. When your child swallows, the food moves into the opening of the esophagus. The esophagus is a tube that moves food from the throat to the stomach.
The stomach produces acids to break down food for digestion. The stomach processes the food your child eats into a liquid form. The processed liquid travels from the stomach to the small intestine. The liquid solidifies as it moves through the large intestine, forming a stool. The stool is eliminated from your child’s body when he or she has a bowel movement.
Diarrhea is most frequently caused by a viral infection, such as the stomach flu. There are many viruses that cause the stomach flu. Rotavirus and Norwalk virus are the most common ones. The viruses are found in contaminated food or drinking water. Poor hand washing frequently spreads the viruses. The viruses can spread among groups of people, such as schools, employers, or families. Symptoms typically appear within 4 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus.
Diarrhea is associated with certain medical conditions. Malabsorption syndromes such as lactose intolerance, gluten malabsorption (celiac disease), and other food intolerances can cause diarrhea. Diarrhea is symptom of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common gastrointestinal disorder that causes alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation. Immune deficiency, such as with HIV or AIDS infection, can also result in diarrhea. Certain medications can cause diarrhea, especially some antibiotics. Laxatives used to treat constipation can sometimes result in diarrhea. Diarrhea is a common side effect of chemotherapy used to treat cancer.
Less common causes of diarrhea include Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome, neuropathy, and carcinoid syndrome. Diarrhea can be a symptom of colon cancer. It may also occur after gastrectomy, the surgical removal of part or all of the stomach. Further, diarrhea can be a side effect of high dose radiation therapy for cancer.
Your child should avoid eating greasy foods, fatty foods, and alcohol. Bananas, rice, applesauce and toast are helpful foods to eat. If your child feels too sick to eat, he or she may try sucking on ice chips until food is tolerated.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat some types of bacterial infections. However, antibiotics do not work on viruses. Stomach viruses usually go away on their own in a few days. Generally, anti-diarrhea medications should not be given for the stomach flu as they only prolong the infection.
Your child should not take over-the-counter diarrhea medications unless your doctor instructs you to. Treatments vary for diarrhea caused by other medical conditions. Lifestyle and dietary changes may help some conditions. Ask your doctor for suggestions specific to your child’s condition.
If your child has a serious medical condition including HIV, AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or liver disease, contact your doctor as soon as your diarrhea starts. Your child may need prompt treatment. Your child may be at risk for developing complications from diarrhea.
Am I at Risk
Is My Child at Risk?
Infants, children, the elderly, and people with suppressed immune systems have the highest risk for getting diarrhea caused by viruses and bacteria. The risk is increased if your child travels or lives in areas with poor sanitation. Your child is at risk if he or she eats or drinks contaminated food or water.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.