KidsMD Health Topics

Diarrhea

  • Diarrhea is defined as watery stool, increased frequency of bowel movement, or both. It's a common problem that may last a few days and disappear on its own.

    Chronic diarrhea may indicate a larger health problem. If your child has diarrhea for more than a few days, consult your doctor.

    How Boston Children's Hospital approaches diarrhea

    The Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition can help with the diagnosis and treatment of different gastrointestinal diseases, including problematic diarrhea.

  • What is diarrhea?

    Acute (short term) diarrhea is common. Chronic diarrhea, however, can be a sign of something more serious, such as inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

    • acute: short-term, lasting less than two weeks. Is usually related to bacterial or viral infections. Can also be a result of a food intolerance or reaction to medication.
    • chronic: long-term, lasting longer than two weeks. Is usually related to functional disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, celiac sprue or Giardia.

    What are the symptoms of diarrhea?

    • cramping
    • abdominal pain
    • bloating
    • nausea
    • urgent need to use the restroom
    • fever
    • bloody stools

    How do I know if my child is suffering from severe diarrhea?

    Call your doctor immediately if your child has:

    • abdominal pain
    • blood in the stool
    • frequent vomiting
    • loss of appetite for liquids
    • high fever
    • dry, sticky mouth
    • weight loss
    • urinates less frequently (wets fewer than six diapers per day)
    • frequent diarrhea
    • extreme thirst
    • no tears when crying
    • depressed fontanelle (soft spot) on your infant's head
  • In addition to a complete physical examination and laboratory tests for blood and urine, your child's doctor may request:

    • laboratory examination of stool sample
    • additional blood tests
  • Treatment for diarrhea usually involves replacing lost fluids. Pedialyte and Gatorade are good options.

    Antibiotics may be prescribed when bacterial infections are the cause.

    Do not use anti-diarrhea medications unless recommended by your child's physician.

  • Divison of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition

    Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

    Phone: 617-355-6058

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