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Children's Health

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Diarrhea, Age 11 and Younger - Topic Overview

Diarrhea occurs when there is an increase in the frequency of bowel movements or bowel movements are more watery and loose than normal. Diarrhea has many causes.

A child may develop diarrhea from a change in his or her diet. A baby's or child's digestive tract may not tolerate large amounts of juice, fruit, or even milk. Diarrhea may be caused by an increase in the amount of juice or fruit a child drinks or eats. Diarrhea that is caused by a change in the child's diet is not usually serious.

Diarrhea is often caused by a viral or bacterial infection, such as rotavirus, stomach flu (gastroenteritis), or food poisoning. Diarrhea is the body's way of quickly clearing any viruses, bacteria, or toxins such as botulism from the digestive tract. Most cases of diarrhea are caused by a viral infection and will usually clear up in a few days.

Diarrhea may also be caused by a parasitic infection, such as Giardia lamblia. This parasite, as well as other viral and bacterial infections, may be spread by drinking untreated water, unpasteurized dairy products, or by poor hand-washing.

On rare occasions, diarrhea can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as:

Children, especially those younger than 6 months of age and those with other health risks, need special attention when they have diarrhea because they can quickly become dehydrated. Careful observation of your child's appearance and how much fluid he or she is drinking can help prevent problems.

Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child should see a doctor.


Normal stool during infancy may be runny or pasty, especially if the baby is breast-fed. The presence of mucus in the stool is not uncommon. Unless there is a change in your baby's normal habits, loose and frequent stools are not considered to be diarrhea.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: June 04, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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