Let’s talk about poop – Diarrhea

When it comes to bathroom habits, what is normal for kids? According to Dr. Mark Corkins, chief of pediatric gastroenterology at Le Bonheur, normal has a broad range, and variations in stool (frequency, consistency, etc.) are common. In the first of a two-part series, Dr. Corkins weighs in on two common poop issues – diarrhea and constipation. Today, he tackles diarrhea.

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is our body’s attempt to flush out infection or toxins, says Corkins. It’s defined by multiple watery stools. If your child is sick or is experiencing food poisoning, diarrhea is the body’s way of getting rid of the illness. A virus is most often the cause of diarrhea, and no medicine can be used to treat the diarrhea. The virus just has to run its course.

How should you treat diarrhea?

Keeping your child hydrated is key, as diarrhea can dehydrate a child quickly, especially if he or she is younger than 6 months or has a chronic disease. Make sure your child is drinking enough, and give him or her fluids that aren’t high in sugar (limit sports drinks and juice). Continue breastfeeding or bottle feeding infants, even through the illness. Meals and nutrition are important, too, as food nourishes the intestine’s lining and can help ease the digestive issues.

Important steps for preventing diarrhea include good hand hygiene and consuming only well-cooked, properly stored foods. A rotavirus vaccine is recommended, too, as the rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhea in infants and young children.

What if my child’s diarrhea is not accompanied with illness (no pain or fever)?

If I see a child with diarrhea, and he or she doesn’t seem to be sick (i.e. isn’t experiencing pain or fever), I ask parents about the child’s juice intake. Often times, especially in toddlers, too much juice is a culprit of watery, frequent stools. Juice contains sorbitol, a sugar that the intestine doesn’t absorb well. This can result in diarrhea in kids.

When should you be concerned?

Signs to watch for with diarrhea include:

  • Dehydration (symptoms are low urine output, no tears, etc.).
  • Children younger than 6 months are more likely to dehydrate easily.Diarrhea lasting longer than two weeks
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)Change in mental response, lethargy
  • Children born prematurely or with chronic disease are at higher risk and should be watched closely, if they have diarrhea.

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