Acute diarrhea in children

Acute diarrhea in children

What is acute diarrhea?

Acute diarrhea is a sudden change in the normal stool pattern. There too often, too much and too thin stools. It is usually over in four to ten days. If the diarrhea lasts longer than two weeks, we speak of chronic diarrhea. The terms acute and chronic say something about the duration of the diarrhea and nothing about its severity. Acute is short-term and chronically long-term.

Food is digested in the intestines. The body absorbs nutrients and moisture from food through the intestinal wall. What remains of the food leaves the body as stool. The intestinal wall is affected by an infection, so that it no longer functions optimally.
The stool is then thinner because:
  • the inflamed intestinal wall can absorb less moisture
  • an inflamed intestinal wall loses moisture
  • the food passes through the intestine faster than normal and therefore less moisture is absorbed from the food

Symptoms acute diarrhea in children

Symptoms that may occur in a child with acute diarrhea:
  • stools that are slurry to watery
  • more and more frequent stools than normal
  • often feel bad
  • abdominal cramps, especially for toilet visits
  • vomiting, especially the first days
  • nausea, especially the first days
  • fever
  • blood or mucus at the stool

How does acute diarrhea occur in children?

Acute diarrhea is usually caused by a virus infection of the intestines. This infection is usually the result of infection with a pathogen (bacterium, virus or protozoa). These enter the body via:
  • Spoiled food This usually concerns meat, fish or crustaceans and shellfish that have not been stored well or for too long or are not well prepared.
  • Contaminated water
  • Contact with faeces or saliva from someone who has diarrhea

Is it serious and what can you expect?

Acute diarrhea almost always goes away by itself and is not a serious condition. With an infection with the rotavirus, the diarrhea lasts relatively long. The intestinal wall has only fully recovered after ten days.
With a bacterial infection, a child becomes ill one to seven days after infection. Acute diarrhea usually lasts no longer than two to ten days.
Dehydration A child with diarrhea loses more fluid than normal, especially if it also has to vomit. Dehydration is a major risk in acute diarrhea. Babies in particular can dry out quickly. Getting your child to drink a lot is very important. Dehydration is not always easy to recognize.
Phenomena that may indicate dehydration:
  • marked reduction in urine output
  • striking thirst
  • (tendency to) fainting
  • drowsiness or confusion
There is a greater chance of dehydration:
  • if the diarrhea lasts longer than two days
  • with continuous vomiting
  • with persistent fever
  • in children under two years of age
  • if a child has another disease, such as diabetes mellitus
Acute diarrhea in the presence of another disease Acute diarrhea can be more severe if your child’s resistance is reduced by another disease.
If a child has diabetes mellitus, the ‘sugar’ can become seriously disrupted during a period of diarrhea. Regular monitoring of blood sugar is therefore recommended.
Acute diarrhea can sometimes also be an expression of another condition. Diarrhea with persistent abdominal pain, for example, may indicate an acute appendicitis.
Blood and mucus in the stool and high fever indicate a more severe form of acute diarrhea (dysentery). Then contact your doctor.
If diarrhea lasts longer than ten days, then there may also be a protozoal infection: the giardia lamblia. This sometimes happens with children who visit daycare centers. The infection is not serious and there is good treatment for it.

When to the doctor?

In any case, contact your doctor if:
  • your child is constantly suffering from abdominal pain instead of abdominal cramps
  • your child is younger than two years and has diarrhea for more than one day
  • your child is older than two years and has diarrhea for more than three days
  • your child is over two years old and has diarrhea and fever for more than three days
  • your child has diarrhea and continues to vomit every time he drinks something. There is an increased risk of dehydration
  • your child has blood or mucus with the stool
  • your child is drowsy or confused. This may indicate dehydration
  • your child has not urinated for 24 hours. This may indicate dehydration
  • your child uses medication
  • your child has diabetes mellitus
  • your child has diarrhea and visits a daycare center. His diarrhea can pose a risk of infection for the other children and the management
If in doubt, it is advisable to contact your doctor.
It is fairly common in infants and young children that diarrhea is an additional phenomenon of an upper respiratory tract infection, such as an ear infection.

What can you do about it yourself?

Acute diarrhea usually resolves within four to ten days. Your child does not need any medication for this. Measures that you can take:
  • let your child drink a lot. If he has diarrhea, his body loses more fluid than normal. To prevent a fluid shortage in his body, you must ensure that he drinks more than normal. A good rule is to offer a glass of moisture after every thin stool. This does not have to be something special, you can just give him what he likes
  • your child can continue to eat and drink as much as he likes. An infant, who is breastfed or bottle-fed, can best continue with this. It has been shown that a child who continues to feed will recover faster than a child who does not eat for a few days
  • Do not let your child drink too much at the same time if he or she suffers from nausea and vomiting
  • ensure good hygiene, due to the risk of infection for your family members. Have your child wash their hands after going to the toilet and before eating. Wash your hands yourself if you have cared for your child. Wash the food and drink that your child has used
  • if the diarrhea is very severe and your child also vomits, there is an increased risk of dehydration. Then it is advisable to consult your doctor. This advises you to supplement salt and sugar as well as moisture. For this you can buy ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) bags at the drugstore or pharmacy. If you dissolve such a bag in 200 ml of water, you will have exactly the right ratio of salt and sugar.
Quantity of ORS for a child:
  • younger than six years: after each thin stool 10 ml ORS per kilogram body weight
  • six years or older: after every thin stool up to 300 ml ORS It is not advisable to make your own ORS: the salt and sugar ratios are often incorrect and that is not without risk

General advice and precautions

  • To prevent acute diarrhea, it is important to preserve food with care and prepare it well. Note the expiration date. Bake, roast or cook your food long enough
  • You can usually prevent dehydration by allowing your child to drink a lot if he has diarrhea. If your child is under the age of two, you must contact your doctor after the first day of a period of acute diarrhea
  • If you have acute diarrhea, you should contact your doctor on the first day if your child has a chronic illness and / or uses medication
  • Maintain good hygiene: wash your hands after every visit to the toilet or change the diaper and wash food and drinks thoroughly
  • If necessary, keep your child at home at the daycare centre
Source : dokterdokter

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