Diarrhoea can be acute (sudden onset and lasts less than two weeks) or chronic (persistent). This leaflet deals with acute diarrhoea, which is common in children. The most important part of treatment is to give the child lots to drink.
The rest of this leaflet deals only with infectious causes of acute diarrhoea.
Symptoms can range from a mild stomach upset for a day or two with slight diarrhoea, to severe watery diarrhoea for several days or longer. Crampy pains in the abdomen (tummy) are common. Pains may ease each time some diarrhoea is passed. Vomiting, high temperature (fever), and headache may also develop.
Can infectious diarrhoea be prevented?
Proper storage, preparation and cooking of food, and good hygiene helps to prevent infectious diarrhoea. In particular, always wash your hands, and teach children to wash theirs:
If a child has infectious diarrhoea, the following are also recommended until symptoms go.
Symptoms often settle within a few days or so as the immune system usually clears the infection. The following are commonly advised until symptoms ease.
Fluids - give the child lots to drink
The aim is to prevent dehydration (low body fluid), or to treat dehydration if it has developed. If the child is dehydrated then a doctor will advise on how much fluid to give. To prevent dehydration, the child should be drinking at least what they would normally drink through the day. And, in addition, as a guide, give the following after each loose stool (each time they pass some diarrhoea) to replace the fluid lost by the diarrhoea:
Rehydration drinks are the ideal drinks to give. They are made from sachets that you can get from pharmacies. (The sachets are also available on prescription.) You add the contents of the sachet to water. Rehydration drinks provide a perfect balance of water, salts, and sugar. They are better than just drinking water alone. The small amount of sugar and salt helps the water to be absorbed better from the gut into the body. They do not stop or reduce diarrhoea, but are the best drinks to prevent or treat dehydration.
Do not use home made salt/sugar drinks as the quantity of salt and sugar has to be exact. If rehydration drinks are not available, then give water as the main drink. Also, give some diluted fruit juice now and then as this contains a little bit of sugar. It is best not to give drinks that contain a lot of sugar such as cola, pop or undiluted juice. Ice lollies are a useful extra source of fluid if a child is reluctant to drink.
The child should eat as normally as possible
Do not 'starve' a child with infectious diarrhoea. This used to be advised but is now known to be wrong.
Medication is not usually needed
You should not give drugs to stop diarrhoea to children under 12 years old. They sound attractive remedies, but are unsafe to give to children due to possible serious complications. However, you can give paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease a high temperature or headache.
If symptoms are severe, or persist, a doctor may ask for a sample of the diarrhoea. This is sent to the lab to look for infecting germs (bacteria, parasites, etc). Sometimes an antibiotic or other treatments are needed, depending on the cause of the infection.
What about probiotics?
Some research studies suggest that taking probiotics may reduce the duration of diarrhoea by about one day. Probiotics are dietary supplements of 'good, non-harmful' bacteria or yeasts. The theory is that these 'good' bacteria and yeasts multiply in the gut and protect the gut from the 'bad' infecting bacteria or virus. Probiotics are not available on NHS prescription. If you wish to try them you can buy them at supermarkets and other stores. Probiotics are sold as capsules, yoghurt products, etc. There is no evidence to prefer any particular form, strength, or dose.
Are there any complications that may occur from infectious diarrhoea?
Complications are uncommon in the UK and include the following:
See a doctor if any of the following develop, or if any other symptoms occur that you are concerned about.
Admission to hospital is sometimes needed if symptoms are severe, or if complications develop.
Taken from patient.co.uk
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