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April 30, 2016

Back to the basics – study suggests a simplified approach to treating vomiting and diarrhea

Research shows drinking diluted apple juice or a favourite beverage can be just as effective as drinking an electrolyte solution to prevent dehydration

TORONTO – In some cases even a teaspoon of sugar isn’t enough to help the medicine go down. Vomiting and diarrhea are common childhood illnesses, which are typically treated by drinking therapeutic electrolyte solution in order to prevent dehydration. The problem is some children don’t like the way these drinks taste and they often refuse to drink them.

A research team led by Dr. Stephen Freedman set out to determine whether minimally dehydrated children who were allowed to drink their preferred beverage, would do as well as kids who were told to drink electrolyte solutions. The study is published in the April 30 edition of JAMA.

Minimally dehydrated children, six months to five years old, taken to the emergency department as a result of vomiting and diarrhea were studied. Researchers found that the children who were provided with diluted apple juice in the emergency department and instructed to consume whatever fluids they wanted to at home to replace ongoing fluid losses, did better than those children who were instructed to only drink an electrolyte solution at home to replace losses. The most significant improvement in outcomes occurred with the older children in the study, those over 24 months of age.

“We believe this difference is most likely related to kids being allowed to drink liquids they actually like and thus they consumed larger amounts, felt better, and needed intravenous fluids less often” says Freedman, Adjunct Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and Associate Professor of Paediatrics, and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation Professor in Child Health and Wellness at the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine. “Children were able to maintain their hydration level simply by being encouraged to return to a normal diet sooner and they didn’t need to see more physicians or return to the hospital more often.”  

The use of beverages with high sugar content has traditionally been discouraged due to their potential to make diarrhea worse. But current literature shows the effect is minimal. In fact this study found that the positive effect of drinking more fluids outweighs the potential negative effect of consuming sugar from juices or sports drinks.  

Dr. Freedman is also a member of the University of Calgary’s Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. This study was supported by a grant provided by the Physician Services Incorporated Foundation.

This paper is an example of how SickKids is contributing to making Ontario Healthier, Wealthier and Smarter. www.healthierwealthiersmarter.ca.

About The Hospital for Sick Children
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally.  Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is proud of its vision for Healthier Children. A Better World. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca.

For more information, please contact:

Caitlin Johannesson
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654 ext 201436
caitlin.johannesson@sickkids.ca

Matet Nebres
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-6380
matet.nebres@sickkids.ca