More About Chronic Diarrhea

Diarrhea is when stools (bowel movements) are loose and watery. Your child may also need to go to the bathroom more often.

Diarrhea is a common problem. It may last 1 or 2 days and go away on its own. If diarrhea lasts more than 2 days, your child may have a more serious problem.

Diarrhea may be either:

  • Short-term (acute). Diarrhea that lasts 1 or 2 days and goes away. This may be caused by food or water that was contaminated by bacteria (bacterial infection). Or it may happen if your child gets sick from a virus.
  • Long-term (chronic). Diarrhea that lasts for a few weeks. This may be caused by another health problem such as irritable bowel syndrome. It can also be caused by an intestinal disease. This includes ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or celiac disease. Giardia may also cause chronic diarrhea.

Diarrhea may be caused by many things, including:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Viral infection
  • Trouble digesting certain things (food intolerance)
  • An immune system response to certain foods (food allergy)
  • Parasites that enter the body through food or water
  • Reaction to medicines
  • An intestinal disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease
  • A problem with how the stomach and bowels work (functional bowel disorder), such as irritable bowel syndrome
  • Surgery on the stomach or gallbladder

Children who visit some foreign countries are at risk for traveler's diarrhea. This is caused by having food or water that is not safe because of bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

Severe diarrhea may mean a child has a serious disease. Talk with your child's healthcare provider if symptoms don’t go away. Also talk with the provider if symptoms stop your child from doing daily activities. It may be hard to find out what is causing your child’s diarrhea. 

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Cramping
  • Belly (abdominal) pain
  • Swelling (bloating)
  • Upset stomach (nausea)
  • Urgent need to use the bathroom
  • Fever
  • Bloody stools
  • Loss of body fluids (dehydration)
  • Incontinence

The symptoms of diarrhea may look like other health problems. Severe diarrhea may be a sign of a serious disease. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.