Etiology and risk factors of severe and protracted diarrhea

Alfredo Guarino, Maria Immacolata Spagnuolo, Stefania Russo, Fabio Albano, Stefano Guandalini, Guglielmo Capano, Salvatore Cucchiara, Paola Vairano, Roberto Liguori, Antonella Casola, Armido Rubino

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56 Scopus citations


Severe and protracted diarrhea (SPD) is the most severe form of diarrhea in infancy and has also been defined as intractable diarrhea. Its etiology is poorly defined. We have retrospectively evaluated the etiology, the outcome, and the risk factors of 38 children, admitted with protracted diarrhea and need for total parenteral nutrition (TPN) from 1977 to 1993. Children with anatomic abnormalities and/or primary immunodeficiency were excluded. There was an inverse relationship between the number of patients and the age of diarrheal onset (mean age, 2.9 ± 3.5 months). Etiology of SPD was an enteric infection in 18 cases (eight Salmonella, three Staphylococcus, five rotavirus, one adenovirus, one Cryptosporidium), multiple alimentary intolerance (eight cases), familial microvillous atrophy (two), autoimmune enteropathy (two), celiac disease, lymphangectasia, eosinophilic enteropathy, intestinal pseudoobstruction, and intestinal neurodysplasia (1 case each). Etiology was not detected in three cases. Overall, 12 children died, five are presently being treated, and 21 had full remission. Comparative evaluation of risk factors between children with SPD and a control population of children with diarrhea but without the need for TPN showed that low birth weight, no breast feeding, history of fatal diarrhea in a relative, and early onset of diarrhea had a significantly higher incidence in the former. Social background was similar in the two populations. We conclude that a specific etiology can be identified in the majority of cases of SPD. The etiologic spectrum of SPD is broad, but an enteric infection is the most common cause of SPD. The severity of this condition is related, at least in part, to established risk factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-178
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Congenital enteropathy
  • Enteric infection
  • Food intolerance
  • Intractable diarrhea
  • Parenteral nutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Gastroenterology


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