Diarrhea is a condition in which loose, watery stools are passed with greater frequency than normal.
What is going on in the body? Diarrhea occurs when the colon or large intestine becomes irritated. This can be caused by many things, including infection, chemical toxins, inflammation, stress, or anxiety. The colon responds to this irritation in the following ways:
• increases the amount of water and mucous in the stool • increases the frequency of emptying the stools from the body • decreases the amount of water it reabsorbs from the stool
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? Diarrhea in infants can cause the following conditions:
• abdominal distress and cramping, which may disrupt sleep • frequent, watery stools, and in more serious situations, pus or blood in the stools • irritability • less interest in feeding • loss of appetite • sluggishness and less activity than usual • vomiting
It is important to be able to tell the difference between diarrhea and the normal loose, watery stools of infants in the first 6 to 8 weeks of life. Breast-fed infants normally have stools that look like watery, yellow cottage cheese. Their stools also are frequent, often occurring during or after each feeding. Breast milk stools usually are sweet-smelling as compared to the stools of formula-fed infants.
Most infants, even those fed formula, have frequent, watery stools until they are six to eight weeks old. After that, the stools become firmer and less frequent. In fact, infants who are only fed breast milk beyond the first two months of life may have a stool only every three to five days. As long as the stool is soft, this is normal. Babies' stools are firmer once they start on solid food.
When severe, diarrhea can cause dehydration. Signs of dehydration include the following:
• absence of tears when crying • decreased urination • dry mouth • sluggishness and lethargy
What are the causes and risks of the condition? Most of the time, diarrhea in children is caused by the viruses that cause gastroenteritis. Diarrhea is often associated with vomiting. Following are other causes of diarrhea: bacteria that invade the intestinal tractgastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndromeinherited birth defects such as cystic fibrosisintroduction of a new foodtoxins from contaminated food (such as apple juice, unpasteurized milk, fruits and vegetables) What can be done to prevent the condition? The best way to prevent diarrhea in infants is for the caregiver to wash his or her hands well before preparing feedings and especially after using the toilet. Other important steps to take are as follows: Discard any unused formula in the bottle after the infant is finished feeding.Keep all items placed in the infant's mouth, such as pacifiers or bottle nipples, clean.Keep other young children in the household who have diarrhea away from the infant.Refrigerate formula that is mixed in larger quantities and discard formula that is not used in 24 hours.Use clean water when preparing infant formula.Wash bottles and nipples well in hot, soapy water. How is the condition diagnosed? Diarrhea is diagnosed by the frequency and looseness of the stools. The cause of the diarrhea is diagnosed by considering other symptoms. These may include the presence of blood or mucus in the stool, the duration of the diarrhea, weight loss, or other signs of illness.
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