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When to Worry About Diarrhea in Children?

Written by
Dr. Vishnu K. R
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Jun 07, 2017 and last reviewed on Mar 07, 2023   -  4 min read


Diarrhea is dangerous for a child. It appears harmless, but slowly it makes the child sick. It makes the child pass out and to be brought to the hospital as an emergency. Here are some tips to look for the danger signs of diarrhea.

When to Worry About Diarrhea in Children?

What Is Diarrhea?

Passing stools that are watery is known to be diarrhea. It will not cause much harm if the child is not dehydrated. The doctor can rule out whether the child has dehydration or not. It is very dangerous if the kid has vomiting along with watery stools.

What Can Cause Diarrhea in Children?

Many things, including: may cause diarrhea:

  • Bacterial infection.

  • Viral infection.

  • Food intolerance.

  • Food allergy.

  • Parasites entering the body through food or water.

  • Food poisoning.

  • Reaction to medicines like antibiotics or laxatives in both children and adults.

  • An intestinal disease, like inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, etc.

  • Functional bowel disorder.

Traveler's diarrhea is common among children who visit foreign countries due to unclean food and water.

What Are the Symptoms of Diarrhea in Children?

Symptoms of diarrhea in children may include:

The symptoms of severe diarrhea may be a sign of severe disease. Take your child to the healthcare provider for a diagnosis before it is too late.

Types of Diarrhea:

Types of diarrhea are:

  • Short-term (acute): Diarrhea that lasts for a short period, like 1 or 2 days, and goes away are called short-term (acute) diarrhea. This can be due to contaminated food or water by bacteria (bacterial infection) or a viral infection.

  • Long-term (chronic): Diarrhea that lasts for an extended period, like for few weeks, are called long-term or chronic diarrhea. This can be due to different health problems like irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal diseases like ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, or celiac disease. Giardia can also cause chronic diarrhea.

Danger Signs:

Diarrhea can usually go away in a few days, but it can lead to severe complications. So if your child has the following symptoms, do not wait; get help.

  1. Vomiting.

  2. More watery stools, that is, more than 3 to 5 times per day.

  3. Altered sensorium, like drowsiness and fainting.

  4. Seizures.

  5. Blood in stools.

  6. Not eating well.

  7. Not thirsty.

  8. The child is looking very sick.

  9. Younger than 6 months old.

  10. Vomiting bloody green or yellow fluid.

  11. Has persistent fever over 100.4° F in a rectal thermometer.

  12. Seems dehydrated.

Any one of the above and watery diarrhea require immediate hospitalization. Bacterial food poisoning can lead to blood in the watery stools, which is called dysentery. It requires management from the intensive care unit. The child may forget the sense of thirst or hunger due to severe diarrhea.

What Are the Diagnostic Methods For Diarrhea?

The healthcare provider will ask about the symptoms and health history of the child, along with a physical examination. Blood and urine samples can be taken and sent to the laboratory for analysis.

The other tests may include:

  • A stool culture.

  • A stool evaluation.

  • Blood tests.

  • Imaging tests.

  • A sigmoidoscopy is done to check the inside of part of the large intestine of the child. A short, flexible, lighted tube (sigmoidoscope) is inserted into the child's intestine through the rectum, which blows air inside the intestine and swells, allowing a clear view of the intestine.


  • ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts):

This ORS solution is the cure and prevention of further deterioration from diarrhea. It contains glucose, sodium, chloride, potassium, and citrate, and the newer ones have zinc, calcium, and magnesium. We can mix a sachet of ORS with five glasses of water, and it can be administered to the child. Depending on the level of dehydration, the doctor will administer a calculated dose immediately and a calculated maintenance dose after each stool. The doctor will advise these in simpler terms.

  • Intensive Care:

When the diarrhea is very severe, the outcome will be a little dangerous. Therefore, it requires administering IV (intravenous) drugs and IV fluids. But early intervention will prevent the child's health from worsening.

Now, you would have to know what to look for in the child, and the doctor will also know what to look for in his patient. Therefore, it is teamwork between the parents and the medical staff. Luckily, the collaboration is becoming better by every week as we see fewer mortalities with diarrhea.

What Are the Complications of Diarrhea in Children?

Dehydration is one of the most problematic complications of diarrhea in children. Mild diarrhea usually does not cause significant loss of fluid, but moderate or severe diarrhea can cause.

Severe dehydration is dangerous because it can lead to seizures, brain damage, or even death. Know the signs of dehydration and call for the doctor if your child has it:

  • Dizziness and light-headedness.

  • Dry and sticky mouth.

  • Few or no tears when crying.

  • Cool and dry skin.

  • Dark yellow urine that is very little or no urine.

  • Lack of energy.

How To Prevent Diarrhea In Children?

We can prevent diarrhea by:

  • Proper handwashing to reduce the spread of bacteria that can cause diarrhea.

  • Taking rotavirus vaccine to prevent diarrhea caused by rotaviruses.

  • Consult with your child's healthcare provider about the right vaccines for your child.

Frequently Asked Questions


When Should Doctor Appointments Be Scheduled for Diarrhea in Children?

Parents should schedule a pediatrician appointment if the child has the following symptoms:
- A persistent fever for more than 24 hours.
- Passes bloody stools.
- Continues to vomit for a day or more.
- The color of the vomit is pigmented green, red, or looks like ground coffee. 
- Severe abdomen pain. 
- Does not want to eat or drink. 
- Rashes.
- Yellowing skin.


After How Long Does Diarrhea Becomes Worrisome?

Diarrhea is a common issue in children that usually goes away in 48 hours. If the condition lasts more than two days with or without other associated symptoms, it is wise to consult a pediatrician.


What Can Be Done to Stop Diarrhea in Children?

To stop diarrhea in children:
- Give glucose and ORS (oral rehydration solutions).
- Avoid juices and carbonated drinks.
- Avoid plain water (ORS works better).
- Avoid overhydration.
- Keep breastfeeding or continue with baby formula (if started).


Is It Possible to Not Be Sick and Still Have Diarrhea?

Toddlers occasionally suffer from toddler’s diarrhea, also known as functional or nonspecific diarrhea, when the child passes watery stool 3 to 4 times a day without any other associated symptoms. This usually regresses within two days.


How Is Diarrhea Caused in Children?

Diarrhea in children can be caused by a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection. It may even cause as a result of an antibiotic prescription. In addition, systemic conditions like irritable bowel disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, food allergies, and celiac disease can also cause chronic diarrheas.


What Should Be the Diet During Diarrhea?

Children having diarrhea should consume bananas, plain white rice, bread, boiled potatoes, plain crackers, oatmeal, porridge, and cream of wheat. Adding probiotics that can restore the gut microflora may also be beneficial.


Can Drinking Water Worsen Diarrhea?

Children with diarrhea suffer from dehydration due to excessive loss of water. Hence they should drink water. Ideally, water should be mixed with ORS (oral rehydration solutions) to help with electrolyte balance.

Last reviewed at:
07 Mar 2023  -  4 min read




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