Skip to Content
Diarrhea occurs when there is an
increase in the frequency of bowel movements or bowel movements are more watery
and loose than normal. Diarrhea has many causes.
A child may develop diarrhea from a
change in his or her diet. A baby's or child's digestive tract may not tolerate
large amounts of juice, fruit, or even milk. Diarrhea may be caused by an
increase in the amount of juice or fruit a child drinks or eats. Diarrhea that
is caused by a change in the child's diet is not usually serious.
Diarrhea is often caused by a viral or
bacterial infection, such as
rotavirus, stomach flu (gastroenteritis), or
food poisoning. Diarrhea is the body's way of quickly
clearing any viruses, bacteria, or toxins such as
botulism from the digestive tract. Most cases of
diarrhea are caused by a viral infection and will usually clear up in a few
Diarrhea may also be caused by a parasitic infection, such as
Giardia lamblia. This parasite, as well as other viral
and bacterial infections, may be spread by drinking
untreated water, unpasteurized dairy products, or by
On rare occasions, diarrhea can be a
symptom of a more serious condition, such as:
Children, especially those younger than 6 months of age
and those with other
health risks, need special attention when they have
diarrhea because they can quickly become
dehydrated. Careful observation of your child's
appearance and how much fluid he or she is drinking can help prevent
Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when
your child should see a doctor.
Normal stool during infancy may be runny or pasty, especially if the baby is
breastfed. The presence of mucus in the stool is not uncommon. Unless there is
a change in your baby's normal habits, loose and frequent stools are not
considered to be diarrhea.
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in children are:
What you are looking for is a change in your child's usual bowel habits.
Every baby and child has different bowel habits. What is
"normal" for one child may not be normal for another. In general:
Anywhere in these ranges can be considered normal if the habit
is normal or usual for your child.
Severe dehydration means:
Moderate dehydration means:
Mild dehydration means:
Based on your answers, you need
Call911or other emergency services now.
Babies can quickly get dehydrated when they lose fluids because of problems like
vomiting or fever.
Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to
severe. For example:
It is easy for your diabetes to become out of control when
you are sick. Because of an illness:
Symptoms of serious illness may
A baby that is extremely sick:
A baby that is sick (but not extremely
Temperature varies a little depending on how you measure it.
For children up to 11 years old, here are the ranges for high, moderate, and
mild according to how you took the temperature.
Oral (by mouth), ear, or rectal temperature
A forehead (temporal) scanner is usually 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) lower than an oral temperature.
Armpit (axillary) temperature
Note: For children under 5 years old, rectal temperatures are
the most accurate.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Blood in the stool can come from
anywhere in the digestive tract, such as the stomach or intestines. Depending
on where the blood is coming from and how fast it is moving, it may be bright
red, reddish brown, or black like tar.
A little bit of bright red
blood on the stool or on the toilet paper is often caused by mild irritation of
the rectum. For example, this can happen if you have to strain hard to pass a
stool or if you have a hemorrhoid.
Certain medicines and foods can affect the color of stool. Diarrhea
medicines (such as Pepto-Bismol) and iron tablets can make the stool black.
Eating lots of beets may turn the stool red. Eating foods with black or dark
blue food coloring can turn the stool black.
If you take a medicine that affects the blood's ability to clot, such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), or clopidogrel (Plavix), it can cause some blood in your stools. If you take a blood thinner and have ongoing blood in your stools, call your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Symptoms of serious illness in a baby
may include the following:
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Severe dehydration means:
Moderate dehydration means:
Mild dehydration means:
An illness plan for people with diabetes usually covers things like:
The plan is designed to help keep your diabetes in control even
though you are sick. When you have diabetes, even a minor illness can cause
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
If you're not sure if a child's fever is high, moderate, or
mild, think about these issues:
With a high fever:
With a moderate fever:
With a mild fever:
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause
diarrhea. A few examples are:
You can get dehydrated when
you lose a lot of fluids because of problems like vomiting or fever.
Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to severe. For
It's important to take action to prevent
you see signs of dehydration in your baby. These signs include your baby being thirstier than usual and having less urine than usual.
If your child is also vomiting, learn about home treatment for vomiting.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
Do not allow your child to drink
untreated or unfiltered water from a lake or stream or unpasteurized milk.
Untreated water and unpasteurized milk are sources for viral, bacterial, and
parasitic infections, such as
Giardia lamblia. Avoid having your child brush his or
her teeth with untreated water. Even a small amount of untreated water can
contain enough parasites, virus, and bacteria to cause diarrhea.
Diarrhea can spread because of poor hygiene.
Food poisoning is a common cause of diarrhea in children and
adults. Most cases of food poisoning at home may be prevented by taking a few
precautions when preparing and storing food. Perishable foods, such as eggs,
meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, and milk products, should be treated
with extra care. Also, precautions should be taken if you are pregnant, you
impaired immune system or a chronic illness, or you
are preparing foods for other high-risk groups, such as young children or older
The following steps are recommended to prevent food poisoning:
Many counties in the United States have extension services
listed in the phone book. These services can answer your questions about safe
home canning and food preparation.
When you travel in wilderness areas or to other countries of the world,
it is common to get traveler's diarrhea from food or water because the methods of food
preparation are different.
Rotavirus vaccine(What is a PDF document?) helps protect babies and young children from getting a
rotavirus infection, which can cause diarrhea and
dehydration. Talk to your child's doctor about this
vaccine for your child.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your child's condition by being prepared to answer
the following questions:
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as ofMay 27, 2016
Current as of:
May 27, 2016
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
© Copyright 2016 Rush-Copley Medical Center • 2000 Ogden Avenue; Aurora, IL 60504
Main: 630-978-6200 • Physician Referral & Information: 630-978-6700 or 866-4COPLEY (866-426-7539)