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DIARRHOEA

Diarrhoea is the passing of frequent, loose or watery stools. Attacks may be produced by a change of diet, but frequently are caused by viral or, more rarely, bacterial infections ( in which case the condition is known as gastro - enteritis). It is often associated with short periods of cramp - like pain all over the tummy and may be accompanied by vomiting. Attacks usually last for only 24 - 48 hours and usually will clear up by themselves with no special treatment. Besides discomfort an important effect of diarrhoea is to cause an extra loss of fluid and this could become serious in the case of babies or if the attack is very prolonged or severe.

Treatment

Food: It is important to rest the child's bowel during an acute attack. No food, or only small quantities of something like cream crackers or toast, should be given for the first 12 hours. A normal diet can be gradually introduced once the symptoms start settling. Avoid fried or fatty foods.

Fluids: The child must drink enough fluid so that he does not become dehydrated , and therefore the amount of fluid should be modified to make up for the amount lost in the stool. It is sometimes mistakenly believed that drinks cause the diarrhoea and that it would be better if they were to be restricted. This is a dangerous misconception, as it is very important for the body to have enough fluid. Drinks should be restricted to clear fluids at first, i.e., water or fruit-flavoured drinks (e.g., Ribena), until the symptoms have begun to settle. Then milk drinks can be introduced.

Medication: A mixture such as Kaolin (obtainable without prescription) will help to make the stool less liquid . In most cases, antibiotics are of no help in reducing the duration or severity of symptoms.

WHEN TO CONSULT THE DOCTOR
  • If the diarrhoea or discomfort does not settle within 24 hours.
  • If there is continuous pain rather than separate bouts of stomach cramp.
  • If the diarrhoea occurs in an infant under six months.
  • If an attack occurs shortly after visiting a foreign country.
  • If the child suffers repeated attacks.
  • If there is blood in the stool.
  • If the child’s general condition is a cause for worry or concern.
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