Yellow Diarrhea in Children: Causes and Treatment

In today's article, you'll learn about the causes of yellow diarrhea in children and how to treat them to avoid dehydration.
Yellow Diarrhea in Children: Causes and Treatment
Sandra Golfetto Miskiewicz

Written and verified by the doctor Sandra Golfetto Miskiewicz.

Last update: 17 April, 2023

Yellow diarrhea in children may be due to multiple causes. While there are some that are physiological (such as the stools of small babies), in other cases they allow us to suspect specific diseases. Therefore, taking into account what the color of the stool indicates in childhood helps us to better orient the actions to follow.

In general, most of the diseases that manifest themselves through yellow diarrhea indicate a deficit in the absorption of fats at the intestinal level. In fact, it’s these elements that give the characteristic color to these stools.

Do you want to know which diseases can cause yellow diarrhea and what to do to treat them? If so, keep reading.

Why does yellow diarrhea occur in children?

First of all, we must clarify what we mean when we talk about diarrhea. Diarrhea is defined as those abundant stools that exceed 7 ounces per day or the elimination of three or more liquid stools in less than 24 hours. Diarrhea can also be considered as soft or liquid stools that exceed what’s typical for the child, which would be the case of diarrhea in infants.

In addition to stool leakage, diarrhea may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, such as loss of appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, and sometimes blood, mucus, or pus in the stool.

The following are the most common causes of yellow diarrhea in children. Be sure to keep reading!

Food

Some foodstuffs can soften and stain children’s poops and thus give the impression of diarrhea. These are sweet potato, turmeric, carrots, or high-fat foods.

However, if the child has watery stools that persist for more than 24 hours, even if they’ve previously eaten these foods, an infectious cause must be ruled out.

A variety of spices.
It’s important to consider that many foods or spices can turn the child’s stools different colors. However, if they’re accompanied by signs suggestive of diarrhea, other pathological causes must be ruled out.

Gastrointestinal infections (gastroenteritis)

Infections of the digestive tract are often associated with the ingestion of food in poor condition or simply contaminated by different pathogenic microorganisms.

One of the most well-known examples is giardiasis, a gastrointestinal infection caused by the parasite Giardia lamblia , which enters the human organism through the ingestion of contaminated water or food. This condition is characterized by prolonged diarrhea (more than 2 weeks), abdominal distention, colicky pain, a lot of flatulence, and the elimination of explosive and foul-smelling feces. Due to the intestinal inflammation that the parasite produces, fats aren’t processed properly and therefore, feces are yellow and float in the toilet.

Gastrointestinal disorders

In addition to infectious causes, there are other inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract that can lead to yellow diarrhea:

  • Celiac disease: This is an autoimmune disease that’s exacerbated by the presence of gluten in the intestine. The most striking symptoms in children include abdominal pain, mouth sores, arthritis, weight loss, and steatorrhea (fat in the stool).
  • Gilbert’s syndrome is a congenital condition that affects the elimination of bile from the liver into the intestine. In this case, the most characteristic sign is the yellow coloration of the skin (jaundice), but as there’s no proper processing of fats in the intestine, these are expelled with the feces and usually give them a yellow color.
  • Disorders of the gallbladder (gallstones or obstructions of the bile duct): These elements interfere with the exit of the biliary salts from the liver towards the intestine and, therefore, part of the fats aren’t reabsorbed and are expelled with the feces.
  • Pancreatitis: This is the inflammation of the pancreas, which can interfere with the digestion of fats in the intestine.
  • Cystic fibrosis: This is an inherited disease that affects the exocrine glands of multiple organs, such as sweat, respiratory secretions, and intestinal glands (such as the pancreas).

It’s important to note that the yellow coloration of the stool in cases of biliary tract involvement is usually transient because if the disorder persists over time, the stool becomes white or grayish.

The treatment of the causes of yellow diarrhea in children

In general, yellow diarrhea in children is usually associated with viral or bacterial infections and, except in rare cases, isn0t treated with antibiotics. But close monitoring of the child with diarrhea is necessary to monitor their hydration status and prevent or promptly treat dehydration.

Here are some common management strategies for yellow diarrhea.

Ensure adequate hydration

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diarrheal syndromes affect more than 1.7 billion children worldwide and this disease is responsible for many deaths in children under 5 years of age. These young children are particularly vulnerable to dehydration because of their higher percentage of body water and because they depend on adults for access to fluids.

Therefore, keeping children well hydrated during periods of diarrhea is extremely important and can be achieved in the following ways:

  • If dehydration is mild, the same frequency of breast milk administration can be maintained if they’re exclusively breastfeeding. On-demand feeding should be maintained, but make sure that they don’t go more than 4 hours without feeding in the case of recurrent losses.
  • In older children, it’s best to maintain hydration with water and oral rehydration solutions (ORS). The key is to offer small volumes but more frequently than usual and to ensure a daily amount according to weight and losses. This information should be provided by the health professional evaluating the child.
  • In cases where the child is unable to hydrate by mouth or shows signs of advanced dehydration, the child should be reevaluated to determine the need for intravenous hydration.

The use of energy drinks to replace water during diarrhea is discouraged because the concentration of minerals and electrolytes isn’t adequate for infants and they’re also high in sugar. Although they improve the taste of the drink, carbohydrates in the intestine further increase water loss through the stool.

Offer an astringent diet

As soon as the little one tolerates liquids and shows a desire to eat, it’s important to restart the diet. However, foods high in fat, water, and fiber should be avoided because they promote intestinal loss. These are papaya, citrus fruits, tomatoes, plums, cabbage, cereals, and dairy products.

A toddler eating in a high chair.
Some cooked vegetables (potato, sweet potato, orange squash), lean meats, rice, noodles, broths, or applesauce can be offered. As the symptoms subside, a gradual return to the usual diet can be made.

Consider the use of drugs in special situations

In some cases of prolonged diarrhea, the pediatrician may indicate the use of probiotics to normalize the damaged intestinal flora. These compounds are nothing more than strains of live bacteria in small amounts, which help the growth of the “good” bacteria in the intestine.

In the event that the yellow diarrhea is due to an infection, the use of antibiotics or antiparasitics will be determined on a case-by-case basis. The decision will be based on the characteristics of the child, the causative germ, and the severity of the clinical picture.

Under no circumstances should a child with diarrhea self-medicate.

Some considerations regarding traveler’s diarrhea

Nowadays, it’s common for children to accompany their parents on trips, and traveler’s diarrhea in this population is very frequent. Difficult access to health centers in rural areas, long trips, or the lack of medical check-ups prior to vacations may favor the appearance of certain complications.

Therefore, if you’re planning a trip with your children, it’s important that you consult your pediatrician about what to do in case of emergency in the event of diarrhea or dehydration. Also, locate health centers close to the area you’re going to visit in order to be able to act quickly in case of any inconvenience.

The use of antidiarrheals, such as loperamide, isn’t recommended in young children and infants.

When to see a doctor for diarrhea?

Parents often consult a doctor when their infant or child has diarrhea. But it’s common for adults to be unfamiliar with the warning signs and symptoms that suggest an emergency. These are as follows:

  • Tachycardia, sunken eyes, pallor, and coldness of the skin
  • Extreme irritability or lethargy
  • Bloody stools
  • Bilious (green) vomiting
  • Petechiae anywhere on the body
  • Intense abdominal pain or extreme distension

In the presence of any of the above-mentioned manifestations, it’s crucial to go to the nearest health center as soon as possible.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.



This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.