Chronic Diarrhea in a 12-Year-Old Child

As a parent, nothing is more frustrating than having a chronically sick child. If your child is experiencing chronic diarrhea, which is defined as diarrhea lasting more than three weeks, it may be difficult to find the root of the problem because a number of illnesses and emotional issues can cause diarrhea. However, when your child is 12, she can tell you her symptoms, and that may help you identify the cause of the problem.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Physical Causes

A 12-year-old can get chronic diarrhea for a number of reasons. There are several possibilities for physical causes for the diarrhea. First, he could have irritable bowel syndrome, a condition in which the nerves in the colon become inflamed 3. Diarrhea can also originate from food-borne sources such as shigella or E coli. The child could have a viral infection, such as norovirus or the herpes simplex virus. Chronic diarrhea can also be caused by an environmental irritant like a lactose intolerance or an allergy to medication.

Emotional Causes

When all physical causes have been ruled out, your pediatrician might begin to explore emotional causes. Some children experience diarrhea during times of high stress. Stress-related diarrhea may be linked to irritable bowel syndrome in that the brain may be over-stimulating the colon during times of stress 3. Alternatively, your child's stress-related diarrhea may have no physical cause the physician can identify.


Once your pediatrician has identified a cause of the chronic diarrhea, she can begin to treat it. If the cause is bacterial, your pediatrician will probably prescribe antibiotics. If the cause is viral or emotional, she may recommend waiting for the diarrhea to pass and keeping your child hydrated and on a diet based on grains, bananas and applesauce. Emotional causes of diarrhea can be treated with a combination of diet and therapy to help your child deal with stress.

When to Seek Additional Medical Assistance

If your child's diarrhea does not clear up in the time frame specified by your pediatrician, make a follow-up appointment. Do not just let it go and hope it will clear up on its own, because additional tests may be warranted. If your child has a bacterial infection that goes untreated, she may suffer from kidney damage or other long-term health effects. If your child's diarrhea has blood or mucus in it or appears black, if she has a fever of more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, or if she appears dehydrated, seek medical assistance immediately.