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Diarrhoea in infants and children

Diarrhoea is the passing of watery stools more than three times a day. It is often a symptom of an infection or long-term condition.

Diarrhoea can either be:

  • acute - diarrhoea that comes on suddenly, but only lasts for five to 10 days, or
  • chronic - diarrhoea that lasts for more than two weeks.

What causes diarrhoea?

Acute diarrhoea is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection and affects almost everyone from time to time.

Chronic diarrhoea may be a sign of a more serious condition and should always be investigated by your doctor. See below.

How common is it?

Diarrhoea and vomiting is very common, especially in children. A baby or toddler will probably have diarrhoea and vomiting two or three times a year.

How serious is it?

Diarrhoea usually clears up in a couple of days and is not serious. However, it can be serious in babies and the elderly because of the risk of dehydration.

If diarrhoea is persistent or associated with symptoms such as blood, you should see your GP.

If your child is between three months and one year old, diarrhoea should last no longer than 48 hours. If it is any longer, contact your GP.

Reproduced under the terms of Click-Use Licence number C2009000382. The content of this page has been published under a Click-Use Licence (link this to which covers the use of core Crown copyright information. The original material can be found on NHS Choices.