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Check Your Symptoms
Diarrhea occurs when there is an increase in the frequency of bowel movements or bowel movements are more watery and loose than normal. Diarrhea has many causes.
A child may develop diarrhea from a change in his or her diet. A baby's or child's digestive tract may not tolerate large amounts of juice, fruit, or even milk. Diarrhea may be caused by an increase in the amount of juice or fruit a child drinks or eats. Diarrhea that is caused by a change in the child's diet is not usually serious.
Diarrhea is often caused by a viral or bacterial infection, such as rotavirus, stomach flu (gastroenteritis), or food poisoning. Diarrhea is the body's way of quickly clearing any viruses, bacteria, or toxins such as botulism from the digestive tract. Most cases of diarrhea are caused by a viral infection and will usually clear up in a few days.
Diarrhea may also be caused by a parasitic infection, such as Giardia lamblia. This parasite, as well as other viral and bacterial infections, may be spread by drinking untreated water, unpasteurized dairy products, or by poor hand-washing.
Diarrhea can also occur from an infection passed on by animals or while traveling to a foreign country.
On rare occasions, diarrhea can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as:
Children, especially those younger than 6 months of age and those with other health risks, need special attention when they have diarrhea because they can quickly become dehydrated. Careful observation of your child's appearance and how much fluid he or she is drinking can help prevent problems.
Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child should see a doctor.
Normal stool during infancy may be runny or pasty, especially if the baby is breastfed. The presence of mucus in the stool is not uncommon. Unless there is a change in your baby's normal habits, loose and frequent stools are not considered to be diarrhea.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:
What you are looking for is a change in your child's usual bowel habits.
Every baby and child has different bowel habits. What is "normal" for one child may not be normal for another. In general:
Anywhere in these ranges can be considered normal if the habit is normal or usual for your child.
Babies can quickly get dehydrated when they lose fluids because of problems like vomiting or fever.
Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to severe. For example:
You can get dehydrated when you lose a lot of fluids because of problems like vomiting or fever.
Severe dehydration means:
Moderate dehydration means:
Mild dehydration means:
Symptoms of serious illness in a baby may include the following:
Symptoms of serious illness may include:
If you're not sure if a child's fever is high, moderate, or mild, think about these issues:
With a high fever:
With a moderate fever:
With a mild fever:
A baby that is extremely sick:
A baby that is sick (but not extremely sick):
Temperature varies a little depending on how you measure it. For children up to 11 years old, here are the ranges for high, moderate, and mild according to how you took the temperature.
Oral (by mouth), ear, or rectal temperature
A forehead (temporal) scanner is usually 0.5° F (0.3° C) to 1° F (0.6° C) lower than an oral temperature.
Armpit (axillary) temperature
Note: For children under 5 years old, rectal temperatures are the most accurate.
An illness plan for people with diabetes usually covers things like:
The plan is designed to help keep your diabetes in control even though you are sick. When you have diabetes, even a minor illness can cause problems.
It is easy for your diabetes to become out of control when you are sick. Because of an illness:
Blood in the stool can come from anywhere in the digestive tract, such as the stomach or intestines. Depending on where the blood is coming from and how fast it is moving, it may be bright red, reddish brown, or black like tar.
A little bit of bright red blood on the stool or on the toilet paper is often caused by mild irritation of the rectum. For example, this can happen if you have to strain hard to pass a stool or if you have a hemorrhoid.
A large amount of blood in the stool may mean a more serious problem is present. For example, if there is a lot of blood in the stool, not just on the surface, you may need to call your doctor right away. If there are just a few drops on the stool or in the diaper, you may need to let your doctor know today to discuss your symptoms. Black stools may mean you have blood in the digestive tract that may need treatment right away, or may go away on its own.
Certain medicines and foods can affect the color of stool. Diarrhea medicines (such as Pepto-Bismol) and iron tablets can make the stool black. Eating lots of beets may turn the stool red. Eating foods with black or dark blue food coloring can turn the stool black.
If you take aspirin or some other medicine (called a blood thinner) that prevents blood clots, it can cause some blood in your stools. If you take a blood thinner and have ongoing blood in your stools, call your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause diarrhea. A few examples are:
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
It's important to take action to prevent dehydration.
Don't wait until you see signs of dehydration in your baby. These signs include your baby being thirstier than usual and having less urine than usual.
If your child is also vomiting, learn about home treatment for vomiting.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
Do not allow your child to drink untreated or unfiltered water from a lake or stream or unpasteurized milk. Untreated water and unpasteurized milk are sources for viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections, such as Giardia lamblia. Avoid having your child brush his or her teeth with untreated water. Even a small amount of untreated water can contain enough parasites, virus, and bacteria to cause diarrhea.
Diarrhea can spread because of poor hygiene.
Food poisoning is a common cause of diarrhea in children and adults. Most cases of food poisoning at home may be prevented by taking a few precautions when preparing and storing food. Perishable foods, such as eggs, meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, and milk products, should be treated with extra care. Also, precautions should be taken if you are pregnant, you have an impaired immune system or a chronic illness, or you are preparing foods for other high-risk groups, such as young children or older people.
The following steps are recommended to prevent food poisoning:
Many counties in the United States have extension services listed in the phone book. These services can answer your questions about safe home canning and food preparation.
When you travel in wilderness areas or to other countries of the world, it is common to get traveler's diarrhea from food or water because the methods of food preparation are different.
Rotavirus vaccine helps protect babies and young children from getting a rotavirus infection, which can cause diarrhea and dehydration. Talk to your child's doctor about this vaccine for your child.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic
Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your child's condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Current as of:
July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: July 1, 2021
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
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