Chronic Diarrhea in Children
Chronic diarrhea is a type of infection that causes children to have diarrhea for up to 2 weeks. Kids with chronic diarrhea often have watery stools that are released more than three times a day. Children with other stomach disorders and health problems often develop chronic diarrhea. For those who have weak immune systems, this type of infection can be life-threatening. Many children with this condition need to go see a doctor for treatment.
Chronic diarrhea is often caused by a virus, bacteria or parasite. Two viruses that often cause chronic diarrhea are norovirus and rotavirus. Noroviruses are viruses that cause stomach flus, and rotaviruses cause acute gastroenteritis. Some medical conditions that can cause chronic diarrhea are cystic fibrosis, chronic pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, hyperthyroidism, tumors, AIDS and immunoglobulin deficiencies. Medications such as laxatives or antibiotics and foods such as milk or soy protein can also cause chronic diarrhea.
Along with diarrhea, children often experience abdominal pain, fever, nausea, cramping and bloody stools. Children with chronic diarrhea are at risk of becoming dehydrated, which is when their body lacks fluid and electrolytes. Dehydration can cause children to experience dry skin, fatigue, light-headedness, dark urine and thirst. Signs of dehydration include a lack of tears when crying, dry diapers for infants, a high fever, a dry mouth or tongue and sunken eyes or cheeks.
Chronic diarrhea usually is not contagious. The only way that it can be spread is if stools contaminate food or water and come into contact with someone’s mouth. The spread of chronic diarrhea is more of a problem in countries that do not have clean supplies of drinking water.
Seeking Medical Attention
Parents should usually take their children to see a doctor if diarrhea lasts more than 3 days. If symptoms such as bloody stools, a fever over 101 degrees or dehydration appear, the child should be taken to see the doctor immediately.
When looking for symptoms of chronic diarrhea, a doctor starts out by performing a physical examination and looking at a patient’s history. This allows her to determine if her patient’s symptoms are indicative of another medical condition. After examining a patient, the first test that a doctor will order is a stool culture. For this test, a sample of stool is taken so that it can be examined in a laboratory for the presence of bacteria. Sometimes a doctor will have a child change her diet to exclude lactose, wheat, carbohydrates or other foods to see how her body responds.