Just as with adults, a variety of infections, conditions, and food intolerances may cause diarrhea in a toddler. This condition presents special concerns in toddlers -- their small size makes them more vulnerable to the dehydration that diarrhea may cause. It's important to prevent your child from becoming dehydrated. Do not give diarrhea medicine unless your child's healthcare provider recommends that you do so.
It is estimated that 1 billion cases of diarrhea occur each year in children. When your child was an infant, it may have been a challenge trying to determine if he or she had diarrhea (see Infant Diarrhea). But as infants grow up, so do their bowel movements. This can make it easier for you to figure out if your child has toddler diarrhea.
Diarrhea is defined as loose, watery, unformed stools occurring more than three times in one day. It is not the occasional loose stool or the frequent passing of formed stools.
There are many possible causes of diarrhea in toddlers. This includes such things as infections (with bacteria, a virus, or a parasite), medical conditions, or food intolerance (such as lactose intolerance).
One of the most common causes of toddler diarrhea is the "stomach flu" (known medically as viral gastroenteritis). Although many different viruses can cause stomach flu in toddlers, the most common is rotavirus.
In the United States, rotavirus is responsible for approximately 5 to 10 percent of all cases of diarrhea among children under five years of age. However, because rotavirus results in more severe diarrhea than other "bugs," it accounts for a greater proportion of severe diarrhea cases.
Rotavirus accounts for more than 500,000 physician visits and approximately 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations each year among children under five years of age. An estimated 1 in 200,000 toddlers with rotavirus diarrhea die from the complications of the infection.