By Dr Evelyn Lewin

Diarrhoea is when a child opens their bowels (does a poo) more frequently than normal, and the result is very watery, runny or unformed stools. It is often a symptom of gastroenteritis (‘gastro’). Diarrhoea can also be a symptom of other illnesses such as food poisoning, or conditions such coeliacs, food intolerance, inflammatory bowel conditions or appendicitis.


Diarrhoea is when stools are runny, watery or unformed (very loose stools where food is sometimes visible as it was not properly digested). These stools occur more frequently than normal. Children with diarrhoea may also have reduced appetite, nausea, vomiting and tummy cramps. They often need to go to the toilet urgently. Diarrhoea can lead to dehydration. Children who are mildly dehydrated are thirsty. As children become more dehydrated they are no longer thirsty. They may have sunken eyes, wee less often, have cold hands or feet and may become pale and listless. If you think your child is dehydrated, seek urgent medical help. After an episode of gastro, children may develop lactose intolerance, due to damage to their bowel when they were sick. They may experience diarrhoea for many weeks due to this.


If your baby has diarrhoea, see a doctor immediately. Losing only a small amount of fluid can lead to dehydration in a baby. Dehydration can cause serious health concerns and can be deadly. Older children with diarrhoea should also see a doctor. In most cases, antibiotics are not needed. Do not give your child medication aimed to stop diarrhoea. To prevent spread of illness, children with diarrhoea (and their carers) need to practice strict hand hygiene. After each bowel motion, and before and after eating, ensure your child washes and dries her hands thoroughly. Offer ample fluids to drink. It is best to offer small amounts often. The ideal drink is an oral rehydration fluid. This can be purchased from the pharmacy. Alternatively, use one part lemonade or fruit juice, to four parts water. If your child refuses to drink, offer an electrolyte icy pole (can be purchased from the pharmacy). Do not worry if your child is not eating, as long as she is drinking enough. If your child has ongoing diarrhoea, is becoming dehydrated or develops blood or pus in her stools, or if you are concerned, see your doctor again. Vaccination against rotavirus, a cause of childhood diarrhoea, is recommended.

Reviewed by Dr Evelyn Lewin 30 March 2015 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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