Diarrhea | Diagnosis and Treatment

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Contact the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

How is diarrhea diagnosed in children?

In addition to a complete medical history, physical examination and laboratory tests for blood and urine, the child's health care provider may request:

  • stool culture to check for the presence of abnormal bacteria in the digestive tract that may cause diarrhea and other problems (A small sample of stool is collected and sent to a laboratory by your health care provider's office. In two or three days, the test will show whether abnormal bacteria are present.)
  • blood tests to rule out certain diseases
  • imaging tests to rule out structural abnormalities
  • tests to identify food intolerance or allergies
  • sigmoidoscopy, a diagnostic procedure that allows the health care provider to examine the inside of a portion of the large intestine, and is helpful in identifying the causes of diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, abnormal growths and bleeding. (A short, flexible, lighted tube, called a sigmoidoscope, is inserted into the intestine through the rectum. The scope blows air into the intestine to inflate it and make viewing the inside easier.)

What are the treatment options for children with diarrhea?

Specific treatment for diarrhea will be determined by your child's health care provider based on:

  • age, overall health and medical history
  • extent of the condition
  • tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • opinion or preference

Treatment usually involves replacing lost fluids. Antibiotics may be prescribed when bacterial infections are the cause.

To replace the body fluids that are lost with diarrhea, children should drink fluids liberally. If they are dehydrated, a glucose-electrolyte solution (for example, Pedialyte or Infalyte) should be given to help the body absorb fluid more easily. These fluids have the right balance of water, sugar and salts, and some are available as popsicles. 

Additional hydration considerations for treating diarrhea include:

  • Avoid juice or soda because these drinks may make diarrhea worse. 
  • Too much plain water at any age can be dangerous. 
  • Do not give plain water to infants. 
  • If you are bottle-feeding or breastfeeding your child, continue to do so.
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