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Diarrhea means having bowel movements more often or having ones that are more watery and loose than normal. Diarrhea has many causes.
A child may get diarrhea from a diet change. 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. This type of diarrhea usually isn't serious.
Diarrhea is often caused by a viral or bacterial infection. These include rotavirus, gastroenteritis, and 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 are caused by a viral infection. They 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 or 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.
In rare cases, diarrhea can be a symptom of a more serious condition. These include:
Children, especially those younger than 6 months of age and those with other health risks, need special attention when they have diarrhea. They can quickly become dehydrated. To help prevent problems, closely watch your child's appearance and how much fluid your child drinks.
Normal stool during infancy may be runny or pasty, especially if the baby is breastfed. Sometimes there is mucus in the stool. Unless there's a change in your baby's normal habits, loose and frequent stools aren't 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.
Here are some tips for caring for your newborn or baby younger than 1 year of age who has diarrhea.
Don't wait until you see signs of dehydration in your baby. These signs include your baby having fewer or no wet diapers and a dry mouth and dry eyes (fewer tears than usual).
Diaper rash is common after diarrhea.
Protect your hands with gloves while cleaning up. Wash your hands after you are done cleaning up.
Until you know that your baby's diarrhea isn't a symptom of an infectious illness, your baby should not attend day care.
Don't give your baby prescription or nonprescription medicine to stop diarrhea. You may need to check with your baby's doctor about what is safe to give.
Here are some tips for caring for your child (age 1 through 11 years) who has diarrhea.
Protect your hands with gloves while you clean up. Wash your hands after you are done cleaning up.
Until you know that your child's diarrhea isn't a symptom of an infectious illness, your child should not attend school or day care.
Don't give your child prescription or nonprescription medicine to stop diarrhea. You may need to check with your child's doctor about what is safe to give.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
June 6, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: June 6, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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