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Frequently Asked Questions

What is diarrhoea?

Diarrhea is the passage of loose or watery stools occurring three or more times in a 24-hour period.The three types of diarrhea are: acute diarrhea, persistent diarrhea, and dysentery.If an episode of diarrhea lasts less than 14 days, it is acute diarrhea. Acute watery diarrhea causes dehydration and contributes to malnutrition. The death of a child with acute diarrhea is usually due to dehydration.If the diarrhea lasts 14 days or more, it is persistent diarrhea. Up to 20% of episodes of diarrhea become persistent. Persistent diarrhea often causes nutritional problems, creating the risk of malnutrition and serious non-intestinal infection. Dehydration also occurs.Diarrhea with blood in the stool – with or without mucus – is called dysentery. Dysentery is very dangerous because of its ability to lead to anorexia, rapid weight loss, and damage to the intestinal mucosa. Another danger is sepsis.Though the global under-five mortality from acute diarrhea has decreased from 4.5 million to 1.8 million annually, acute diarrhea continues to take a huge toll on children's health in developing countries. (WHO 2006) Diarrhea represents a significant burden on the health system, the household, and the nutritional status of children. (Bateman and McGahey 2001)
Diarrhea is the second leading killer of children under the age of five, accounting for approximately 15% of under-five child deaths worldwide, or almost two million deaths annually. (WHO 2003)Although the means to prevent diarrhea through water supply, sanitation, and hygiene have been well documented, each year roughly one and one half billion episodes of acute diarrhea occur among children under the age of five.

Clinical types of diarrhoeal diseases
It is most practical to base treatment of diarrhoea on the clinical type of the illness, which can easily be determined when a child is first examined. Laboratory studies are not needed. Four clinical types of diarrhoea can be recognized, each reflecting the basic underlying pathology and altered physiology: acute watery diarrhoea (including cholera) which lasts several hours or days:
the main danger is dehydration; weight loss also occurs if feeding is not continued; acute bloody diarrhoea (also called dysentery):
the main dangers are intestinal damage, sepsis and malnutrition; other complications, including dehydration, may also occur; persistent diarrhoea (which lasts 14 days or longer):
the main danger is malnutrition and serious non-intestinal infection; dehydration may also occur; diarrhoea with severe malnutrition (marasmus or kwashiorkor);
the main dangers are: severe systemic infection, dehydration, heart failure and vitamin and mineral deficiency. The management of each type of diarrhoea should prevent or treat the main danger(s) that each presents. When a child has diarrhoea the body fluids and salts can be quickly lost from the body. The child becomes dry (dehydrated) and this is very dangerous and may kill the child.

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updated: 23 August, 2019