Diarrhoea is frequent bowel opening with loose or watery stool.
Frequent passage of normal formed stool especially in breastfed infant
is not diarrhea.
What causes diarrhea in children ?
The most common cause of diarrhea is due to infection of the
gastrointestinal tract (called gastroenteritis), and the most common
cause is a virus. About 40% of childhood diarrhea is due to a virus
called Rotavirus. Other causes include food allergies such as cow's milk
intolerance and conditions that cause defect in nutrients absorption.
Recurrent and chronic diarrhea will necessitate the doctor to look for
other rare causes such as defective immune system and diseases like
How would the child become sick due to diarrhoea ?
During diarrhoeal episodes, the body will loose water and salts
(termed as electrolytes) such as sodium and potassium. The state in
which the amount of body water is reduced is called dehydration. The
severity of illness correlates well with the severity of dehydration and
imbalance in the electrolytes. Severe dehydration may lead to kidney
failure and death.
What can done at home if my child develops diarrhea ?
Since diarrhea causes dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, we need
to replace what is lost from the body. The child needs to be fed with
his usual milk and drinks, and the amount should be more than usual so
as to replace the loss. The caregiver can also prepare oral rehydration
solution (ORS) from oral rehydration salt, usually available from the
pharmacy. The child should be encouraged to take ORS as much as
possible, or at least after every bowel opening.
Can oral rehydration solution (ORS) be made at home ?
Oral rehydration solution (ORS) can be made at home using clean
water, salt and sugar or glucose powder. For every glass of clean water
(about 250mls), add a pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons of glucose sugar.
Then it is ready for consumption. Instead of plain water, fruit juice or
coconut water can be used to improve the flavor and add more potassium
to the oral rehydration solution (ORS). Rice water from boiled rice
porridge can also be used as ORS.
What can be done if the child vomits ?
A vomiting child can still be treated with oral rehydration fluid.
Frequent small amount of ORS will help to prevent dehydration.
When should the child be seen by a doctor ?
A child with diarrhoea should be brought to seek medical attention
- the child cannot tolerate oral feeding e.g. severe vomiting
- there are signs of moderate to severe dehydration such as
lethargy, cold extremities, fast breathing and pour urine output
- the amount of watery stool is excessive
- there is blood mixed with the stool
- the diarrhoea persists for more than a week
- the child is still very young i.e. less than four months old
Will medication be helpful in diarrhea ?
Generally, medication is not only ineffective in the treatment of
diarrhoea, but it may also be harmful to the child. Medication should
not be taken unless prescribed by doctors. The most important therapy is
rehydration. If oral rehydration fails to restore body water, the doctor
will rehydrate using intravenous fluid.
Can diarrhoeal disease be prevented ?
Breastfeeding and good hygienic practices are two most important
preventive measures for diarrhoea. Ensure that proper hand washing is
practiced before preparing food and feeding. Currently, Rotavirus
vaccine is available to reduce the risk of getting Rotavirus infection.