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Gastroenterology. 2010 Oct;139(4):1156-64. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2010.05.076. Epub 2010 Jun 2.

Prolonged episodes of acute diarrhea reduce growth and increase risk of persistent diarrhea in children.

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Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.



Prolonged episodes of acute diarrhea (ProD; duration 7-13 days) or persistent diarrhea (PD; duration ≥14 days) are important causes of undernutrition, yet the epidemiology and nutritional impact of ProD are poorly understood.


We conducted a 10-year cohort study of 414 children from a Brazilian shantytown who were followed from birth; data were collected on diarrhea, enteric pathogens, and anthropometry.


During 1276 child-years of observation, we recorded 3257 diarrheal episodes. ProD was twice as common as PD (12% and 5% of episodes, respectively); ProD and PD together accounted for 50% of all days with diarrhea. ProD was more common in infants whose mothers had not completed primary school (relative risk [RR], 2.1; 95% confidence interval: 1.02-2.78). Early weaning was associated with earlier onset of ProD (Spearman ρ = 0.309; P = .005). Infants with ProD were twice as likely to develop PD in later childhood (log rank, P = .002) compared with infants with only acute diarrhea (AD; duration <7 days), even after controlling for confounders. Children's growth was more severely stunted before their first episode of ProD, compared with AD (mean height-for-age Z score (HAZ) -0.81 vs -0.51, respectively, P < .05, unpaired t test). Following ProD, HAZ (ΔHAZ = -0.232) and weight-for-age (ΔWAZ = -0.26) significantly decreased (P < .005 in paired t tests). ProD was associated with Cryptosporidium and Shigella infections.


ProD accounts for significant morbidity and identifies children at risk of a vicious cycle of diarrhea and malnutrition. Further studies are needed to address the recognition and control of ProD and its consequences in resource-limited settings and assess its role in PD pathogenesis.

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