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Diarrhea or loose stools is something that every child experiences at some point of his or her life. It can last for a day or two, in some cases it can even extend beyond two days. The longer your child suffers from loose stools or Diarrhea, the higher are the chances of complications.

In the case of an otherwise healthy child, diarrhea can be caused due to the following reasons:

  • A Viral infection (commonly termed as the stomach bug) is the most common reason
  • Bacterial Infection, though less common but is one of the causes
  • Food Allergies and Food intolerance
  • Parasite infestation (Worms)
  • An underlying medical condition (least common)

Depending upon the duration of Diarrhea, it can be classified as:

  • Short term or Acute Diarrhea- it stays for a day or two and then stops. This type is most commonly caused due to an underlying viral or bacterial infections that children catch after consuming contaminated food or water.
  • Long term or Chronic Diarrhea- Lasts for a couple of weeks at a stretch and may have a tendency to recur. It is mostly due to worm infestation or because of an underlying medical condition like Irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerance etc.

Common symptoms of Diarrhea in children include:

Loose motions, fever, pain in the stomach, nausea and vomiting too might be present in some cases. Each child might have a different presentation in terms of intensity of the disease, frequency of loose stools.

So what is the big deal?

Why are parents asked to take diarrhea in children seriously?

Before we proceed to know it, here are some key facts-

  • Diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years of age.
  • It is a leading cause of malnutrition in children under five years of age.

With Diarrhea, children are at a higher risk of getting dehydrated– faster than an adult having a similar illness. Even a case of moderate Dehydration in children can rapidly increase the stress upon the heart and the lungs and lead to ‘shock’ which is a life-threatening situation.

Severe dehydration in children can even lead to seizures and brain damage.

Here are a few warning signs of dehydration that you must keep in mind-

  1. Dry and sticky mouth
  2. Dark yellow urine or no urine output at all
  3. No tears or few tears while crying
  4. Dry, cold and pale skin
  5. Lack of energy might be noticeable in older children
  6. You can also try doing the skin pinch test- pull the skin on the abdomen, over the front of the chest, near the collarbone or on the back of the hand. In a child who is mildly dehydrated- the skin will appear wrinkled after pulling it and will take some time to go back to normal.

Recurrent of chronic Diarrhea can lead to something known as Malabsorption i.e. a state of imperfect absorption of food from the small intestine. Lack of absorption of essential nutrients can lead to Malnutrition i.e. a state of deficiency of essential nutrients that exposes the child to a handful of other complications and even illnesses.

The whole idea of this article is to understand that Diarrhea is an absolutely preventable as well as treatable condition. So if your child does suffer from loose stools at some point, you can start him or her with ORS or Oral rehydration solution. Remember in children less than 6 months of age you must continue breastfeeding along with the ORS. As per the recommendation of IMNCI from the Government of India, you must add a Zinc supplement for 14 days into your child’s diet.  Also, make sure you approach a qualified medical practitioner promptly if you notice any of the above-mentioned signs of dehydration.  You might also want to talk about the preventive measures that one can take in order to keep their child away from Diarrhea.

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