Definition: Diarrhea is the sudden increase in both the looseness and frequency of bowel movements. In children this is most often caused by an infection of the stomach and the intestines. Infants have loose watery bowel movements normally especially if they are breast fed. One way to tell if an infant has diarrhea is if there is blood or mucous found in the bowel movement or there is an sudden increase in the frequency or they become foul smelling.

Signs and Symptoms: Bowel movements are watery and become more frequent. Your child may also have crampy on and off abdominal pain. Vomiting is also common. Because an infection is usually the cause your child may have a fever. Most mild diarrhea will not cause serious complications but if the diarrhea becomes severe enough dehydration could occur. Dehydration is the excessive loss of the body’s fluids. Signs of dehydration are: no urine for 8 hours or more, dry inside of mouth and no tears.

Treatment:  Most diarrhea even if there is mild dehydration can be treated with fluids by mouth. If the diarrhea is mild and there is no vomiting a regular diet with extra fluids ( no juices) is all that is needed. If the diarrhea is more severe or there is vomiting present an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte or one of the similar store brands should be given in small frequent amounts. Stay away from sports electrolyte drinks as the amount of sugar in them may worsen the diarrhea. Younger children can return to child care when the bowel movements are formed and there is no fever for 24 hours or more.

When to call the doctor: If your child has signs of dehydration you should contact your doctor immediately. Non stop abdominal pain for more than 2 hours should also be a cause to call your physician. Blood in the bowel movement may indicate a more serious infection or some other other cause of the diarrhea and should be evaluated. Other reasons to call your doctor if your child has diarrhea are if the child is 2 months of age or less or your older child has fever over 103 degrees.

Dennis Cooley