How is diarrhoea diagnosed in children?


The diagnosis of diarrhoea is based on symptoms, including the extent of dehydration, the type of diarrhoea, whether blood is visible in the faeces, and the duration of the episode(s).

Your doctor may use information from your child’s medical and family history, a physical examination (e.g. touching your child’s abdomen to check for pain), or tests to find the cause of the diarrhoea (e.g. lab tests to check for certain viruses or bacteria).

He or she will have to determine whether the diarrhoea is caused by a viral, bacterial or parasitical infection, or by something else. Diseases that may present with diarrhoea include the following:

  • Lactose intolerance or other malabsorption syndromes
  • Appendicitis
  • Paediatric Crohn’s disease
  • Paediatric irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Paediatric cancer

Diarrhoea may also occur as a side effect of medication (e.g. antibiotics). In order to determine the cause, your doctor might ask you to keep a dairy of your child’s diet and stool habits.

Reviewed by Kim Hofmann, registered dietitian, BSc Medical (Honours) Nutrition and Dietetics, BSc (Honours) Psychology. August 2018.

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