Gastroenteritis: When Your Child Needs Hospital Care

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Gastroenteritis is a common childhood illness that causes diarrhea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration. It is usually caused by a virus but can also be caused by bacteria or a parasite. Most of the time mild diarrhea and vomiting last for just a few days. However, if symptoms don't go away or they get worse, your child may need to be treated in the hospital.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your child's doctor if your child is younger than 6 months old and has any of the following:

  • Blood in the stool

  • Frequent vomiting

  • Stomach pain

  • Urinates less often (Wets fewer than 6 diapers per day.)

  • No tears when crying

  • Loss of appetite for liquids

  • Fever higher than 102.2F (39C)

  • Frequent diarrhea

  • Dry, sticky mouth

  • Weight loss

  • Extreme thirst

Care At the Hospital

The biggest concern with gastroenteritis is dehydration, which occurs when a child loses too much fluid and becomes dried out. If your child has lost a lot of fluids from vomiting or diarrhea, they may need to get fluids back into their body. One way to do this is through a small plastic tube called an IV. The IV is placed inside a vein under your child's skin. Another way is to pass a thin tube from the nose into the stomach and administer fluids directly into the GI tract.

Once your child gets fluids into their body and starts making normal amounts of urine again, they will be able to go home. This can take only a few hours, or your child may need to stay overnight in the hospital.

Care At Home

For cases of mild to moderate diarrhea, continue to give your child their regular diet. Continue to give breast milk, baby formula or both. If your child is not able to tolerate cow's milk because of the diarrhea, talk with your child's doctor about temporarily removing it from their diet.

Special fluids called electrolyte solutions have been designed to replace water and salts lost during diarrhea. Do not try to prepare these special fluids yourself. Ask your child's doctor or a pharmacist for a recommendation.

Continue to feed your child if they are not vomiting. You may have to give your child smaller amounts of food than normal or give your child foods that do not further upset their stomach.

Help Keep Your Child Healthy

Here are ways to keep your child healthy:

  • Stop germs from spreading. Frequent hand washing with soap is the best way to prevent germs from spreading. You can also use a waterless hand cleaner.

  • Avoid germs. Try to keep your child away from children who have diarrhea or are vomiting.

Visit HealthyChildren.org for more information.


The AAP is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists, and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.

In all aspects of its publishing program (writing, review, and production), the AAP is committed to promoting principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.