5.1  Assess and classify diarrhoea

There are different kinds of diarrhoea and you will need to know how to identify and assess these. Diarrhoea may be loose or watery, with blood in the stool and may be with or without mucus. It frequently leads to dehydration in the child, and can be serious enough to lead not only to malnutrition but also to the child’s death. It may be acute or persistent (you will learn about the difference between these below) and can be linked to a number of diseases, including cholera and dysentery. The most common cause of dysentery is Shigella bacteria (amoebic dysentery is not common in young children).

Shigella bacteria and other infectious agents that cause diarrhoea are described in Study Sessions 32 and 33 of the Communicable Diseases Module.

A child may have both watery diarrhoea and dysentery. The death of a child with acute diarrhoea is usually due to dehydration.

  • Diarrhoea is the passage of three or more loose or watery stools per day.
  • Persistent diarrhoea: diarrhoea which lasts 14 days or more (in a young infant this would be classified as severe persistent diarrhoea).
  • Dysentery: diarrhoea with blood in the stool, with or without mucus.

Learning Outcomes for Study Session 5

5.2  Assess diarrhoea in children