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When you have diarrhea

Diarrhea - self-care; Diarrhea - gastroenteritis

Diarrhea is the passage of loose or watery stool. For some, diarrhea is mild and will go away within a few days. For others, it may last longer. It can make you lose too much fluid (dehydrated) and feel weak. It can also lead to unhealthy weight loss.

The stomach flu is a common cause of diarrhea. Medical treatments, such as antibiotics and some cancer treatments can also cause diarrhea.

Facts About Diarrhea in Kids

  • Which of these statements about diarrhea in children is true?

     

    A. Mild diarrhea almost always clears up in a few days

     

    B. Diarrhea can make kids feel weak and “dried out.”

     

    C. Diarrhea can cause unhealthy weight loss

     

    D. All of the above

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. Children with diarrhea often do not feel well, but mild cases may clear up in just a few days. More severe diarrhea may last longer. Changing what children with diarrhea eat and drink can help them feel better.
  • It can be hard to tell if a baby has diarrhea.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is true. It’s normal for babies’ stools to be soft and loose, plus they have frequent bowel movements in their first couple of months. Babies who suddenly start having more bowel movements may have diarrhea. Other signs include having more than one stool per feeding and watery stools.
  • Which of these can cause diarrhea in children?

     

    A. A stomach illness

     

    B. Antibiotics

     

    C. Certain foods

     

    D. Cancer treatment

     

    E. All of the above

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. Whatever causes their diarrhea, children need to drink plenty of fluids so they don’t get dehydrated. They also may need to change their eating habits for awhile. Ask your doctor before giving over-the-counter medicines for diarrhea. These drugs can make some infections worse.
  • Diarrhea can irritate a baby’s skin. What will help prevent a rash?

     

    A. Change the infant’s diapers often

     

    B. Use a diaper ointment or cream

     

    C. Avoid wipes that have alcohol or perfume

     

    D. Comfort your baby as much as possible

     

    E. A, B, and C

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is A, B and C. Changing baby's diaper often can help prevent a rash. Let your baby’s bottom air out after you remove a wet diaper. Before putting on a clean diaper, apply a diaper cream or ointment to help soothe a sore bottom. Comforting your baby will help your little one feel better, but it won't prevent a rash.
  • Children with diarrhea can drink which of the following to replace lost fluids?

     

    A. Watered-down sports drinks, such as Gatorade

     

    B. Clear liquids

     

    C. Special over-the-counter fluids and frozen freezer pops made for children with diarrhea

     

    D. Breast milk, Pedialyte, or watered-down formula (for infants)

     

    E. All of the above

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. Popsicles and JELL-O are other good choices for clear fluids, especially when a child is vomiting. You can get a lot of fluids into your child slowly this way and not overfill the stomach. Infants should have breast milk or Pedialyte. Use watered-down formula only as a short-term treatment.
  • There is no "best" diet for children with diarrhea.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is true. However, children usually tolerate bland foods better. In most cases, you should continue feeding your baby or child as usual. Most children can keep up with the nutrients lost through diarrhea if they eat more. Always continue breast-feeding or formula feeding babies.
  • Yogurt with live active cultures may help children whose diarrhea is caused by:

     

    A. The stomach flu

     

    B. A cold

     

    C. Antibiotics

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is antibiotics. Diarrhea caused by antibiotics may get better when children eat yogurt with live active cultures. Check the label to make sure it’s the right yogurt. If the diarrhea doesn’t improve, check with the doctor to discuss changing or stopping the child’s antibiotic.
  • Which of the following is a sign your child needs more fluids?

     

    A. Not urinating for more than six hours

     

    B. Dark yellow urine

     

    C. Dry eyes with fewer or no tears

     

    D. Dry tongue and inside of mouth

     

    E. All of the above

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. A child who needs water passes dark yellow urine and will urinate less. Call your doctor if your child starts to show signs of dehydration, has blood or mucus in the stool, a persistent fever, or stomach pain.
  • Children can avoid getting diarrhea when traveling out of the country by only drinking:

     

    A. Water from the tap in the hotel

     

    B. Bottled water

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is bottled water. When traveling in developing countries, you can also lower your chances of getting diarrhea by avoiding uncooked vegetables or fruits that don’t have peels, raw shellfish, and undercooked meat.
  • This healthy habit can lower the risk for illnesses that cause diarrhea:

     

    A. Washing your hands a lot, especially after using the bathroom and before eating

     

    B. Using alcohol-based hand gel often

     

    C. Teaching children to not put objects in their mouth

     

    D. All of the above

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. It’s never too early to start teaching children what they can do to stay healthy.

How to Relieve Diarrhea

These things may help you feel better if you have diarrhea:

  • Drink 8 to 10 glasses of clear fluids every day. Water is best.
  • Drink at least 1 cup (240 milliliters) of liquid every time you have a loose bowel movement.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day, instead of 3 big meals.
  • Eat some salty foods, such as pretzels, soup, and sports drinks.
  • Eat some high potassium foods, such as bananas, potatoes without the skin, and fruit juices.

Ask your health care provider if you should take a multivitamin or drink sports drinks to boost your nutrition. Also ask about taking a fiber supplement, such as Metamucil, to add bulk to your stools.

Your provider may also recommend a special medicine for diarrhea. Take this medicine as you have been told to take it.

Eating When you Have Diarrhea

You can bake or broil beef, pork, chicken, fish, or turkey. Cooked eggs are also OK. Use low-fat milk, cheese, or yogurt.

If you have very severe diarrhea, you may need to stop eating or drinking dairy products for a few days.

Eat bread products made from refined, white flour. Pasta, white rice, and cereals such as cream of wheat, farina, oatmeal, and cornflakes are OK. You may also try pancakes and waffles made with white flour, and cornbread. But don't add too much honey or syrup.

You should eat vegetables, including carrots, green beans, mushrooms, beets, asparagus tips, acorn squash, and peeled zucchini. Cook them first. Baked potatoes are OK. In general, removing seeds and skins is best.

You can include desserts and snacks such as fruit-flavored gelatin, fruit-flavored ice pops, cakes, cookies, or sherbet.

Things you Should Avoid Eating or Drinking

You should avoid certain kinds of foods when you have diarrhea, including fried foods and greasy foods.

Avoid fruits and vegetables that can cause gas, such as broccoli, peppers, beans, peas, berries, prunes, chickpeas, green leafy vegetables, and corn.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks.

Limit or cut out milk and other dairy products if they are making your diarrhea worse or causing gas and bloating.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your provider if you have:

  • The diarrhea gets worse or does not get better in 2 days for an infant or child, or 5 days for adults
  • Stools with an unusual odor or color
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blood or mucus in your stool
  • A fever that does not go away
  • Stomach pain

References

Bobak DA, Guerrant RL. Nausea, vomiting, and noninflammatory diarrhea. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 100.

Shiller LR, Sellin JH. Diarrhea. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 16.


 

Review Date: 10/18/2017

Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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