Diarrhea is loose, watery, or more frequent soft bowel movements. Common causes of diarrhea in children include infections of the stomach and intestines (gastrointestinal tract), changes in diet or anxiety. Most cases of diarrhea are not serious, go away in a day or two and can be managed at home. However, diarrhea that happens along with persistent abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, or not urinating may require a doctor’s attention. Diarrhea that seems to be getting worse or that lasts more than a week also should be discussed with a doctor.
Answering the questions in this tool will help you understand more about the possible causes of diarrhea in children, and will help you decide when to call your doctor.
Children with diarrhea can become dehydrated when they do not take in enough fluids to replace those liquids that are lost with the diarrhea.
Signs that your child may be dehydrated include:
- making less urine than usual or has not made any urine in six to eight hours
- increased sleepiness (lethargy)
- decreased activity
- decreased appetite or poor feeding
- fast heart rate
- sunken eyes
- dry mouth or tongue
- pale, dry skin
- lack of tears
- weight loss
Does your child show any signs of dehydration?
Does your child have diarrhea and any of the following symptoms?
- high fever (higher than 102 F or 39 C) or shaking chills
- blood in the stool
Does your child have abdominal (belly) pain in addition to the diarrhea?
Does your child have vomiting in addition to diarrhea?
Is your child under three years and does he or she have repeated episodes of diarrhea?
Are your child’s symptoms associated with events that might produce stress, such as school, travel, sports, or performances?
Is your child taking, or did your child just finish taking an antibiotic (for example, amoxicillin) to fight an infection?
Have you given your child any new prescription or non-prescription medicines?
Are your child’s stools foul-smelling or does the diarrhea seem related to eating certain foods?
Your child’s diarrhea does not seem to be explained by the common causes of diarrhea in children.
Call your doctor to go over your child’s symptoms and decide whether and when a visit to the office makes sense.
Your child’s diarrhea may be related to a problem with digesting certain foods or a food allergy.
Call your doctor. Your child may be having a drug reaction. Ask the doctor if the medicine could be causing the diarrhea.
When your child takes an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection, the antibiotic destroys some of the “good” bacteria that live in the intestines to help digest food. As a result, your child may develop diarrhea. This usually clears up as soon as the antibiotic is finished. Eating yogurt with “active” or “live” cultures can help to replace the good bacteria so that stools return to normal.
Call your doctor if the diarrhea is not improving; call sooner if it is getting worse.
This is a common occurrence. Call your doctor if your child’s symptoms last for more than one week.
Toddlers sometimes get diarrhea that is caused by problems in their diet, such as drinking too much juice or caffeinated beverages. There are also intestinal problems, such as trouble absorbing nutrients, that can cause repeated episodes of diarrhea. Call your doctor to discuss this problem.
Diarrhea and vomiting are common with an infection of the stomach and intestines called gastroenteritis. Your child may also have some mild fever. Call your doctor if your child’s symptoms last for more than one or two days or worsen.
Is the pain constant, severe, and/or located in the right lower side of the abdomen?
Mild, crampy, all-over pain is common with an infection of the stomach and intestines called gastroenteritis. Your child may have some vomiting and mild fever. Call your doctor if he starts to vomit more or his other symptoms are getting worse. He should be much better within a couple days; if not call your doctor.
Call your doctor now. Your child could have a serious problem with the intestines or appendicitis.
Call your doctor. Your child’s diarrhea may be caused by a serious infection.
Call your doctor now. Your child may be dehydrated and needs attention.
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