Causes of Chronic Diarrhea in Toddlers
Chronic diarrhea is a gastrointestinal symptom that may interfere with daily life. This symptom is defined as three loose stools per day that persist for four or more weeks. When chronic diarrhea happens in children, it can lead to other problems including malabsorption, dehydration, and failure to thrive. The potential causes of chronic diarrhea in toddlers are numerous and include infections, food allergies or intolerances, and toddler’s diarrhea.
Gastrointestinal infections are caused by pathogens such as viruses or bacteria. Viral gastroenteritis, also known as the “stomach flu,” is common in children and can cause acute diarrhea. For most, chronic diarrhea is not caused by viral gastroenteritis. However, in some children, the symptom of chronic diarrhea may persist even after the infection is gone.
Food Allergies or Intolerances
A food allergy is a reaction by the immune system to a food protein. In toddlers, the most common food allergies are to the protein in cow’s milk or soy, but these allergies are typically outgrown by the age of three years.
A food intolerance is an unpleasant reaction to various foods, such as the carbohydrate or sugar found in a food. However, the unpleasant reaction associated with a food intolerance does not involve an immune system reaction. For example, a child may be lactose intolerant and unable to digest the milk sugar known as “lactose.” This intolerance can product symptoms of gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
A toddler or child may also be intolerant to sucrose, which is table sugar. Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID) is a disorder that causes a reduction in the activity of the enzymes sucrase and isomaltase. Because of this reduction in enzymatic activity, a child with CSID is not able to tolerate sucrose.
Toddlers with CSID can present with symptoms of abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, and poor physical growth. CSID resulting in Sucrose Intolerance symptoms occurs when a child eats a food that contains sucrose, including grains or specific fruits and vegetables, such as bananas or carrots.
Unlike other food intolerances seen in children, a child does not outgrow CSID. While most children gain a small increase in sucrose tolerance as they age, diet modifications and medication therapy are usually needed.
Toddler’s diarrhea is a chronic, nonspecific type of diarrhea. This type of diarrhea is seen in toddlers who present exclusively with the symptom of diarrhea and do not have fever, pain, or poor physical growth. Moreover, toddler’s diarrhea is not triggered by food intake. CSID is often misdiagnosed as toddler’s diarrhea because the symptom of chronic diarrhea are similar. However, children typically outgrow toddler’s diarrhea by the age of three years.
If your toddler suffers from three loose stools per day that have persisted for at least four weeks, be sure to speak with your child’s physician.
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