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Pediatric Digestive Health

Diarrhea Treatment in Children

Diarrhea is when your child has more than three very loose or watery bowel movements in one day. For many children, diarrhea is mild and passes after about one or two days.

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What Is Diarrhea in Children?

Other symptoms can include:

  • Cramps or pain in the abdomen
  • An urgent need to use the bathroom
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Fever, chills and bloody stools

Diarrhea lasting more than a few days may be a sign of a more serious problem. Diarrhea that lasts at least four weeks can be a symptoms of a long-term (chronic) disease. Chronic diarrhea symptoms may be continuous or they may come and go.

What Causes Diarrhea in Children

A stomach or intestinal illness can cause diarrhea in babies, toddlers, children and adolescents. It also can be a side effect of medical treatments, such as antibiotics and some cancer treatments.

The most common causes of baby diarrhea, toddler diarrhea and children diarrhea include:

  • Viruses such as norovirus or rotavirus. Viruses are the most common cause of short-term (acute) diarrhea in children.
  • Bacteria from contaminated food or water
  • Parasites, which are tiny organisms found in contaminated food or water
  • Medicines such as antibiotics, cancer drugs and antacids that contain magnesium
  • Food intolerances and sensitivities, which are problems digesting certain ingredients or foods. An example is lactose intolerance.
  • Disease that affect the stomach, small intestine or colon, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Problems with how the colon functions, such as irritable bowel disease

Frequent handwashing or use of alcohol-based sanitizers can reduce the spread of bacteria that may cause diarrhea. Children also can receive a vaccine to protect against rotavirus.

How to Stop Diarrhea in Children at Home

Diarrhea treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age and general health and the condition’s severity.

Dehydration is a major concern with diarrhea, and can be mild, moderate or severe. Mild dehydration is the body’s loss of fluid. Moderate or severe dehydration puts stress on the heart and lungs and in the worst cases, can lead to shock, which is life-threatening. Dehydration is more likely with young children and those with a weakened immune system.

To treat mild cases of diarrhea at home, you should give your child lots of fluids. Also, oral hydration solutions such as Pedialyte are useful for the replacement of lost fluids and electrolytes.

Do not give your child commercial sports drinks, juice, soda, or too much plain water. For infants, keep breastfeeding or feeding your baby formula if you were already doing so. Do not give plain water to your baby.

Severe or Chronic Diarrhea Treatment

If your child sees a pediatrician for diarrhea treatment, the pediatrician will first ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. Next, the pediatrician will give your child a physical exam. Your child may also have lab tests to check blood and urine. Other tests may include:

  • A stool culture to check for abnormal bacteria or parasites in your child’s digestive tract. A small stool sample is taken and sent to a lab.
  • A stool evaluation to check the stool for blood or fat
  • Blood tests to rule out certain disease
  • Imaging tests to rule out structural problems
  • Tests to check for food intolerance or allergies
  • A upper endoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy to check the inside your child’s intestine

Warning Signs of Severe Diarrhea in Children

Although diarrhea is not usually harmful, it can become dangerous or signal a more serious problem, and can be especially dangerous in newborns and infants. Contact your pediatrician if your child is younger than 6 months or has any of these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stool
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Loss of appetite for liquids
  • High fever
  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Weight loss
  • Urinates less frequently (wets fewer than six diapers a day)
  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Extreme thirst
  • No tears when crying
  • A sunken appearance of the soft spot at the top of the head