The management of children with gastroenteritis and dehydration in the emergency department

J Emerg Med. 2010 Jun;38(5):686-98. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2008.06.015. Epub 2009 Apr 5.


Background: Acute gastroenteritis is characterized by diarrhea, which may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain.

Objective: To review the evidence on the assessment of dehydration, methods of rehydration, and the utility of antiemetics in the child presenting with acute gastroenteritis.

Discussion: The evidence suggests that the three most useful predictors of 5% or more dehydration are abnormal capillary refill, abnormal skin turgor, and abnormal respiratory pattern. Studies are conflicting on whether blood urea nitrogen (BUN) or BUN/creatinine ratio correlates with dehydration, but several studies found that low serum bicarbonate combined with certain clinical parameters predicts dehydration. In most studies, oral or nasogastric rehydration with an oral rehydration solution was equally efficacious as intravenous (i.v.) rehydration. Many experts discourage the routine use of antiemetics in young children. However, children receiving ondensetron are less likely to vomit, have greater oral intake, and are less likely to be treated by intravenous rehydration. Mean length of Emergency Department (ED) stay is also less, and very few serious side effects have been reported.

Conclusions: In the ED, dehydration is evaluated by synthesizing the historical and physical examination, and obtaining laboratory data points in select patients. No single laboratory value has been found to be accurate in predicting the degree of dehydration and this is not routinely recommended. The evidence suggests that the majority of children with mild to moderate dehydration can be treated successfully with oral rehydration therapy. Ondansetron (orally or intravenously) may be effective in decreasing the rate of vomiting, improving the success rate of oral hydration, preventing the need for i.v. hydration, and preventing the need for hospital admission in those receiving i.v. hydration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Antiemetics / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dehydration / complications
  • Dehydration / diagnosis*
  • Dehydration / therapy*
  • Diarrhea / complications
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Fluid Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Ondansetron / therapeutic use
  • Physical Examination
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Vomiting / complications
  • Vomiting / drug therapy


  • Antiemetics
  • Ondansetron