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What to Do About Diarrhea

Most cases of diarrhea (runny or watery bowel movements) are caused by a viral infection in the intestines (bowels). Diarrhea usually is not a sign of a serious illness, but it can make kids lose fluids, salts, and minerals. If your child has diarrhea, it's important to make sure fluids and nutrients are replaced.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Diarrhea?

  • loose and frequent poops
  • cramping belly pain
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling tired
  • weight loss
  • dehydration

What Can I Do About Diarrhea?

Depending on the amount of fluid lost and how severe the diarrhea is, your doctor will suggest that you:

  • Continue your child's regular diet and give more liquids.
  • Offer extra breast milk or formula to infants.
  • Give an oral rehydration solution (such as Pedialyte, Enfalyte, or a store brand) to replace lost fluids. It has the right amount of water, sugar, and salt for kids. You can buy it at drugstores or supermarkets without a prescription. Offer small amounts often by syringe, spoon, or cup. Your doctor can tell you how much to give and for how long. Kids over 1 year old also can have frozen electrolyte pops.

Do not offer plain water to infants — it doesn't have enough sodium and other minerals. Avoid apple juice and other sweet drinks because they may make diarrhea worse.

Get Medical Care if Your Child:

  • is younger than 6 months old
  • has severe diarrhea
  • has diarrhea that lasts more than a few days
  • vomits repeatedly or refuses to drink liquids
  • is peeing less than usual
  • has severe belly pain
  • has diarrhea that contains blood or mucus

What Can Help Prevent Diarrhea?

Make sure kids wash their hands well and often to avoid infections from germs that can cause diarrhea. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating. Refrigerate meats as soon as possible after buying them and cook them until they're no longer pink.

Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date Reviewed: Jul 23, 2022

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