Diarrhea in Children Overview

Diarrhea is common in children of all ages. In infants, stools are commonly soft, and young infants may have up to a dozen bowel movements a day. If the consistency is runny and liquid, it may be a sign of diarrhea. In older children, two or three soft or runny stools a day may indicate diarrhea.

Diarrhea in children is commonly caused by viral or bacterial infections, though it may also be a response to particular drugs (such as antibiotics) or food allergies. In chronic cases it may reflect a bowel disorder. Most instances of diarrhea are not serious, though it’s important that infants get enough fluids to avoid dehydration. Call your doctor if blood appears in the stools (it may be either bright red or black in color), if your child is experiencing severe abdominal pain, if mild diarrhea persists for more than five days, or if diarrhea seems to be causing dehydration.

When to seek medical assistance. While fever, rashes, or stomach or ear pain are readily apparent, it is not always obvious when a child is sick. Look for any changes in your child’s appearance or behavior, such as unusual fussiness in an infant, poor appetite, or loss of energy. As you get more familiar with your child’s behavior and personality, you’ll grow more confident about assessing his state of health. Older children will often let you know if they’re not feeling well.

Although most minor ailments can be safely treated at home, call your doctor if you’re unsure about any situation. Also call if your child exhibits any of the following:

  • A high fever
  • Blood in the stools; blood may appear bright red or black in color
  • Blood in vomit (red or brown vomit), persistent vomiting, or projectile vomiting (forceful vomiting in an infant younger than three months)
  • Severe stomach or abdominal pain lasting more than 30 minutes
  • An unusual rash or inflammation

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 29 Jul 2010

Last Modified: 02 Dec 2014