Various foods and fluids have been used in traditional treatments for diarrhoeal illnesses in infants and children for centuries. During the last 2 decades, however, with the advent of an improved scientific understanding of oral rehydration, effective treatment of dehydrating diarrhoea has been improved, expanded and simplified. The appropriate use of oral rehydration solutions depends on an appreciation of the physiological mechanisms of diarrhoeal disease and the mechanisms for absorption from the intestinal mucosa, as well as an understanding of the interrelation between fluids and food in the comprehensive management of diarrhoeal illness. Since dehydrating diarrhoea is such a common cause of morbidity and mortality, and because oral rehydration therapy is inexpensive, effective and adaptable, it has become a powerful intervention for improvement in health care for all ages. Newer formulations using starches, cereals and/or amino acids promise to make oral rehydration therapy even more efficacious and acceptable. Nearly all developing countries now have active national diarrhoeal control programmes which facilitate rehydration therapy as the first treatment for diarrhoea while discouraging the use of other diarrhoea medicines (e.g. kaolin and pectin, antispasmodics, etc.). Industrialised countries are also increasingly using oral rather than intravenous fluids. For most patients with lesser degrees of dehydration (up to about 8%) or no detectable dehydration, oral rehydration therapy is the only form of hydration needed. The ‘standard’ oral replacement solution recommended by the World Health Organization has the advantage of wide experience, demonstrated safety and effectiveness and wide availability. However, rehydration is only part of the management of diarrhoea, and nutritional management (including electrolytes and glucose, alternative substrates to glucose, inclusion of starches and proteins in the solution if possible, etc.) must also be integrated into programmes for diarrhoea control.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pharmacology (medical)