Diarrhoea in Children

For children 12 and over, see chart 24

Diarrhoea is the passage of loose or watery faeces more often than normal. Breast-fed babies may pass loose faeces several times a day, and this is normal. If your child has diarrhoea, he or she should drink plenty of clear fluids to avoid dehydration. If symptoms persist, consult your doctor.

  • How long has your child had diarrhoea?

    • Less than 3 days

      Does your child have any of the following symptoms?

      • Abdominal pain
        • Possible cause Your child may have gastroenteritis.

          Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately if your child is under 6 months old. If your child is older, follow the self-help advice for preventing dehydration and consult your doctor if you are concerned, if your child has not improved in 24 hours, or if other symptoms develop.

      • Temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
        • Possible cause Your child may have gastroenteritis.

          Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately if your child is under 6 months old. If your child is older, follow the self-help advice for preventing dehydration and consult your doctor if you are concerned, if your child has not improved in 24 hours, or if other symptoms develop.

      • Vomiting
        • Possible cause Your child may have gastroenteritis.

          Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately if your child is under 6 months old. If your child is older, follow the self-help advice for preventing dehydration and consult your doctor if you are concerned, if your child has not improved in 24 hours, or if other symptoms develop.

      • None of the above

        Has your child recently taken antibiotics or is your child currently taking medications or complementary remedies?

        • Yes
          • Possible cause Your child’s symptoms may be a side effect of the drug or remedy.

            Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours. Continue giving prescribed medications unless advised to stop by your doctor, but stop giving any other medications or complementary remedies.

        • No

          How old is your child?

          • Under 12 months

            Was your baby given any of the following before the onset of diarrhoea?

            • Unfamiliar foods
              • Possible cause Foods that are new to your baby may be the cause of digestive upsets.

                Self-help Withhold the food that seems to be causing the trouble for at least 1 week. Consult your doctor if your baby is no better in 24 hours or develops other symptoms.

            • Sugary foods or sweetened drinks
              • Possible cause Sugar in food and drink can cause diarrhoea in babies.

                Self-help Avoid giving your baby sweetened foods and drinks. Consult your doctor if your baby is no better in 24 hours or develops other symptoms.

            • None of the above
              • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your child’s diarrhoea from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

          • 12 months – 3 years
            • Possible cause Young children often fail to chew and digest food properly, which can lead to toddler’s diarrhoea (see Vomiting and diarrhoea). Unfamiliar foods can have the same effect

              Self-help No special action is needed provided that your child is well. Consult your doctor if your child develops other symptoms.

          • Over 3 years

            Is your child experiencing unusual stress, anxiety, or excitement?

            • Stress or anxiety
              • Possible cause Psychological stress or unusual excitement can cause diarrhoea.

                Self-help The diarrhoea should stop as soon as the cause has disappeared. Consult your doctor if there is a long-term cause of anxiety in your child’s life or if your child develops other symptoms.

            • Excitement
              • Possible cause Psychological stress or unusual excitement can cause diarrhoea.

                Self-help The diarrhoea should stop as soon as the cause has disappeared. Consult your doctor if there is a long-term cause of anxiety in your child’s life or if your child develops other symptoms.

            • Neither
              • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your child’s diarrhoea from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

    • 3 days or more

      Was your child constipated before the onset of diarrhoea?

      • Constipated
        • Possible cause Persistent constipation can lead to faeces trickling from the anus (see Constipation in children). This may be mistaken for diarrhoea.

          Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

      • Not constipated

        What is the appearance of your child’s faeces?

        • Uniformly runny

          Has your child recently taken antibiotics or is your child currently taking medications or complementary remedies?

          • Yes
            • Possible cause Your child’s symptoms may be a side effect of the drug or remedy.

              Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours. Continue giving prescribed medications unless advised to stop by your doctor, but stop giving any other medications or complementary remedies.

          • No

            How old is your child?

            • Under 12 months

              Was your baby given any of the following before the onset of diarrhoea?

              • Unfamiliar foods
                • Possible cause Foods that are new to your baby may be the cause of digestive upsets.

                  Self-help Withhold the food that seems to be causing the trouble for at least 1 week. Consult your doctor if your baby is no better in 24 hours or develops other symptoms.

              • Sugary foods or sweetened drinks
                • Possible cause Sugar in food and drink can cause diarrhoea in babies.

                  Self-help Avoid giving your baby sweetened foods and drinks. Consult your doctor if your baby is no better in 24 hours or develops other symptoms.

              • None of the above
                • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your child’s diarrhoea from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

            • 12 months – 3 years
              • Possible cause Young children often fail to chew and digest food properly, which can lead to toddler’s diarrhoea (see Vomiting and diarrhoea). Unfamiliar foods can have the same effect

                Self-help No special action is needed provided that your child is well. Consult your doctor if your child develops other symptoms.

            • Over 3 years

              Is your child experiencing unusual stress, anxiety, or excitement?

              • Stress or anxiety
                • Possible cause Psychological stress or unusual excitement can cause diarrhoea.

                  Self-help The diarrhoea should stop as soon as the cause has disappeared. Consult your doctor if there is a long-term cause of anxiety in your child’s life or if your child develops other symptoms.

              • Excitement
                • Possible cause Psychological stress or unusual excitement can cause diarrhoea.

                  Self-help The diarrhoea should stop as soon as the cause has disappeared. Consult your doctor if there is a long-term cause of anxiety in your child’s life or if your child develops other symptoms.

              • Neither
                • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your child’s diarrhoea from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

        • Contain recognizable pieces of food

          Is your child gaining weight and growing normally?

          • Yes

            Has your child recently taken antibiotics or is your child currently taking medications or complementary remedies?

            • Yes
              • Possible cause Your child’s symptoms may be a side effect of the drug or remedy.

                Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours. Continue giving prescribed medications unless advised to stop by your doctor, but stop giving any other medications or complementary remedies.

            • No

              How old is your child?

              • Under 12 months

                Was your baby given any of the following before the onset of diarrhoea?

                • Unfamiliar foods
                  • Possible cause Foods that are new to your baby may be the cause of digestive upsets.

                    Self-help Withhold the food that seems to be causing the trouble for at least 1 week. Consult your doctor if your baby is no better in 24 hours or develops other symptoms.

                • Sugary foods or sweetened drinks
                  • Possible cause Sugar in food and drink can cause diarrhoea in babies.

                    Self-help Avoid giving your baby sweetened foods and drinks. Consult your doctor if your baby is no better in 24 hours or develops other symptoms.

                • None of the above
                  • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your child’s diarrhoea from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

              • 12 months – 3 years
                • Possible cause Young children often fail to chew and digest food properly, which can lead to toddler’s diarrhoea (see Vomiting and diarrhoea). Unfamiliar foods can have the same effect

                  Self-help No special action is needed provided that your child is well. Consult your doctor if your child develops other symptoms.

              • Over 3 years

                Is your child experiencing unusual stress, anxiety, or excitement?

                • Stress or anxiety
                  • Possible cause Psychological stress or unusual excitement can cause diarrhoea.

                    Self-help The diarrhoea should stop as soon as the cause has disappeared. Consult your doctor if there is a long-term cause of anxiety in your child’s life or if your child develops other symptoms.

                • Excitement
                  • Possible cause Psychological stress or unusual excitement can cause diarrhoea.

                    Self-help The diarrhoea should stop as soon as the cause has disappeared. Consult your doctor if there is a long-term cause of anxiety in your child’s life or if your child develops other symptoms.

                • Neither
                  • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your child’s diarrhoea from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

          • No
            • Possible cause It is possible that your child has a condition affecting the digestive tract, such as food intolerance or coeliac disease.

              Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance if your child’s diarrhoea is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • Drowsiness or lethargy.
  • Severe and prolonged abdominal pain.
  • No urine passed during the day for 3 hours (if under 1 year) or 6 hours (in an older child).
  • Refusal to drink or feed (in babies) for over 6 hours.
  • Blood in the faeces.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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