Basically, diarrhea is the passage of loose or watery stools (bowel movements) that may also contain blood, pus or mucus. It is fairly common in children. In fact, that in the
U.S., there are 20 to 35 million episodes of diarrhea in children every year. When diarrhea is present, there can also be other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, stomach
aches, headache and fever.
Diarrhea can be a symptom of chronic digestive conditions such as celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Diarrhea can also result from
lactose intolerance. Other diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, can result in diarrhea. Diarrhea can also be acute, in other words happening suddenly and only for a brief period
of time. Mild instances of acute diarrhea can be caused by a number of conditions, including food allergies, antibiotics or changes in our eating habits. Some treatments for
other conditions, including some cancer treatments, can result in diarrhea.
Undercooked foods or spoiled foods can also result in diarrhea. When traveling, many people experience diarrhea because of problems with the water supply. In many cases of food
and water contamination, the culprit is a bacterium called E. coli.
serious cases of diarrhea, along with other symptoms, can also be caused by:
* viruses, such as rotavirus, or Norwalk virus and other noroviruses
* bacteria, such as salmonella, listeria, Shigella or campylobacter
* parasites, such as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum
Diarrheal illness can also be seasonal or may occur in outbreaks where many people are affected.
Treatment and prevention
Most people who develop a case of mild diarrhea recover without treatment. Treatment, of course, depends on the cause of the diarrhea. If it is caused by a parasite, such as
with giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis, there are medications that can be used. antibiotics are not always an appropriate treatment for diarrhea. That's because many diarrheal
illnesses are caused by viruses, which don't respond to antibiotics.
In the case of E. coli 0157:H7, antibiotics may contribute to a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and should not be used. HUS is characterized by destruction of
red blood cells, damage to the lining of blood vessel walls and, in severe cases, kidney failure. most cases of HUS occur as a result of E coli infection and children are most
likely to be affected. 90 percent of HUS patients recover, but some cases can lead to kidney failure.
However, the most common danger for anyone with a serious case of diarrhea, especially children and seniors, is dehydration. This happens if the body loses more fluids and salts
(electrolytes) than it takes in. Signs of dehydration include a decrease in urine production, extreme thirst, dry mouth and unusual drowsiness. Severe dehydration is a medical
emergency and requires immediate care.
special oral rehydration fluids can be purchased at drugstores. You should ask your pediatrician what's best in your child's case.
If you have any concerns about dehydration or about a child's or your own diarrhea, contact your doctor at once. It's also important to call your doctor if someone with diarrhea
is also experiencing any of the following:
* high fever
* blood in stools
* prolonged vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down
Perhaps the best course is to develop (and help children develop) habits that can reduce the risk of infections that lead to diarrhea. The following are suggestions from CDC and
the International Food Information Council:
* Wash hands carefully and often. Adults should wash their hands after using the toilet, helping a child use the toilet, diapering a child and before preparing, serving or
eating food. Children should wash their hands after using the toilet, after having their diapers changed (an adult should wash infant's or small child's hands) and before eating
snacks or meals.
* Disinfect toys, bathrooms and food preparation surfaces frequently, especially if a sick child has been in the home.
* Use diapers with waterproof outer covers that can contain liquid stool or urine or use plastic pants and make sure that children wear clothes over diapers.
* Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating. Cook meats, fish and poultry thoroughly
* Avoid raw eggs; in recipes using eggs that aren't cooked, such as eggnog, you can substitute pasteurized eggs, sold in the grocery dairy case or freezer