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Diarrhoea: Dangers and Treatment

It's a rare mother who doesn't feel at least a little dismayed the first time her infant has diarrhea. But it is a common malady during infancy and childhood. Fortunately, most cases are mild. On occasion though acute diarrhea can result in dehydration, which can be serious. Knowing what the symptoms are and how to treat it will help you cope.

Many new mothers mistake bowel activity for diarrhea. Breastfed babies tend to pass stools that are yellow, soft or seedy, and frequently watery. Formula-fed babies tend to pass stools that are soft, but more formed, and may be brown, brown-green or yellow. More than four or five bowel movements in a day is not necessarily an indication of diarrhea. Many babies have a bowel movement after each feeding, which is perfectly normal; others may only have one every three days. It all depends on the individual infant, and it is the changes in the normal pattern that you should watch for. 


Diarrhea is present when there is a change from normal bowel movements to stools that are looser, more watery, and more frequent than normal for your baby. They often have a foul odor. If this is your infant's first case, you should consult your child's physician. Diarrhea can be triggered by many factors, most commonly a viral infection in the intestinal tract, which inhibits the way fluid is normally absorbed in the intestines. A cold or intolerance to a food or medication can also be the culprit. 


Although diarrhea rarely becomes a serious problem, it is potentially dangerous, especially for infants and young children. The major concern is rapid fluid loss resulting in dehydration. Food passes through the intestines more quickly during a bout of diarrhea, taking with it water, nutrients and electrolytes (minerals such as sodium, potassium and chloride). This malabsorption leads to repeated elimination of watery stools and potential dehydration. Vomiting frequently accompanies diarrhea; in these cases dehydration can develop even more rapidly. To prevent this serious side effect it is important to replace lost water and electrolytes at the onset. Any significant dehydration constitutes an emergency, so be aware of the following signs:

  • Dry lips, tongue and skin 
  • Decreased amount of urine 
  • Weight loss 
  • Gray skin color 
  • Rapid breathing and pulse rate 
  • Sunken eyes or anterior fontanel (the baby's soft spot) 
If your baby develops any of these during the course of acute diarrhea, contact your baby's pediatrician immediately, or take the child to an emergency care facility for evaluation. 


Call your pediatrician and be prepared to answer the following questions: 

  • When did the diarrhea begin? 
  • How many bowel movements has your baby had, and how often? 
  • What are the characteristics of the stools? 
  • Has your baby been vomiting? 
  • What is the baby's temperature? 
  • Is your baby taking fluids well? 
  • Is the amount of urine normal? 
This information will help your doctor determine if the child should be examined, or can be treated at home. Do not starve the baby. Let the baby eat or drink what she likes. The baby may prefer soup, juice, coconut water, rice cunjee with salt or other rice preparations, curds, banana and potatoes. If the baby is being breastfed, continue breastfeeding. The most important medicines for diarrhoea are rice cunjee and water, salt and sugar solution. These help in preventing dehydration by replacing the essential salts lost with the baby's loose motions. 

Some formula-fed infants cannot digest lactose (the sugar in milk) properly. This intolerance is commonly associated with acute diarrhea, and can be dangerous, because malabsorbed carbohydrates may cause more water to be drawn into the intestine, aggravating the diarrhea. Your pediatrician can tell you how to recognize the signs of carbohydrate intolerance. 

You can add lime juice or orange juice for taste. Keep this solution in a refrigerator or cold place and consume as much as possible. For teenagers, aim for 1-2 glasses (200 ml glass) after each loose motion. For younger children aim for ½ to 1 glass after each loose motion. If the child does not keep taking much at a time or tends to vomit, give a few sips every 5-10 minutes day and night. The idea is to ensure enough urine output. Make a fresh solution after 24 hours. Wherever possible, boil the water and cool it before adding salt and sugar. Though boiled water is preferable, it is not essential. Once the solution is ready, do not boil it. 

Note that if the patient is passing blood or mucus in stools, he should immediately consult a doctor since he may need other medicines as well. Normally, thriving breastfed babies sometimes pass frequent watery motions. This is not diarrhoea and does not need any treatment. 

Although the first - and even the second - bout of diarrhea your child goes through may be a harrowing experience, remember that most kids sail through the illness with no problem.

For home-made preparations for diarrhea, Click Here

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