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What is diarrhea in children?
Diarrhea is defined as watery stool, increased frequency of bowel movement, or both. In most cases, diarrhea in children lasts no more than a few days and goes away on its own. These short-term (or acute) cases of diarrhea are usually related to bacterial or viral infections.
In other cases, diarrhea may last for weeks at a time— this is called chronic diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea may also be caused by infections such as giardia, but is more likely to be caused by a chronic medical condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or an inflammatory condition such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or celiac disease.
Chronic diarrhea in children may indicate a larger health problem. If your child has diarrhea for more than a few days, consult your doctor.
When should you call the doctor about diarrhea?
For mild diarrhea, you can typically wait for your child to get better and use home care remedies.
According to the National Institutes of Health, you should call your doctor if your newborn (under 3 months old) has diarrhea. Also call your physician if your child has:
Blood, mucus, or puss in the stool
More than eight stools in eight hours
Vomiting that continues for more than 24 hours
Fever and diarrhea lasting more than two to three days
Stomach pain or abdominal cramping
Diarrhea that develops within one week of travel outside of the United States or after a camping trip (the diarrhea may be due to bacteria or parasites that require treatment)
Diarrhea that keeps returning, or if your child is losing weight
Much less activity than normal (e.g., not sitting up at all or not looking around)
Severe and/or chronic diarrhea may indicate a serious disease, and it is important to consult your child's health care provider if the symptoms persist or affect daily activities. Identifying the cause of the problem may be difficult.
Seek medical help immediately if your child shows signs of dehydration:
Dry and sticky mouth
No urine for six hours
No tears when crying
How Boston Children's Hospital approaches diarrhea in children
Boston Children’s is the #1 ranked pediatric gastroenterology department (U.S. News & World Report, 2014-15), and our team includes the best doctors and clinicians for children. Our expansive care team can help parents struggling with a diagnosis to find a solution by providing individualized treatment plans and access to more specialized care than any other hospital. The Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition can help with the diagnosis and treatment of different gastrointestinal diseases, including problematic and/or chronic diarrhea.
Contact the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Boston Children’s Hospital to make an appointment: 617-355-6058
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