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Diarrhoea and vomiting in a child

By Sarah Marshall

CPD logoNo matter how hygienic a household, most children will experience bouts of gastroenteritis. To complement a previous CPD article on acute diarrhoea in adults, Sarah Marshall looks at the condition in children



Diarrhoea — the passing of loose or watery stools, usually accompanied by an increase in stool volume and frequency— can occur for many reasons but when of rapid onset the most likely cause is gastroenteritis.

In the UK this condition is usually self-limiting but it can result in significant morbidity and use of healthcare services. In preschool children acute gastroenteritis is responsible for 204 out of every 1,000 GP consultations annually, with seven out of 1,000 cases being severe enough to merit hospital admission. Typically preschool children will experience at least one episode a year.

In children, acute gastroenteritis is usually viral. It is predominantly due to rotavirus infection. Adenovirus or norovirus can also be culprits. Less common pathogens in children include campylobacter, salmonella, Escherichia coli and cryptosporidium.

Symptoms of gastroenteritis generally include diarrhoea (of sudden onset) with or without vomiting, accompanied by nausea, fever and abdominal pain. Vomiting is more likely to feature with viral infections than bacterial, with a concomitant increased risk of dehydration. Bacterial enteric infections are more likely to be associated with severe pain in the abdomen and sometimes blood in stools.

Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis tend to pass more quickly than those of bacterial gastroenteritis. Vomiting usually lasts for a day or two (and in most children resolves in three days) and diarrhoea usually lasts for less than seven days (but can last for up to two weeks).

To read the full article download the attached PDF (340K)

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Sarah Marshall, PhD, MRPharmS, is a freelance pharmaceutical writer from Aberdeenshire

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11001331

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