Treatment of acute gastroenteritis in children: an overview of systematic reviews of interventions commonly used in developed countries

Evid Based Child Health. 2013 Jul;8(4):1123-37. doi: 10.1002/ebch.1932.


Background: Acute gastroenteritis (AGE) is an extremely common paediatric condition, which results in significant morbidity in children and is a financial burden to the society.

Objective: The purpose of this overview is to critically evaluate the evidence currently available in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR) regarding the efficacy and safety of commonly considered treatment options in children with AGE.

Methods: All Cochrane reviews evaluating the following treatments in children with AGE were eligible for inclusion: oral rehydration therapy, anti-emetics and probiotics. We excluded those focusing on the treatment of antibiotic associated or nosocomial diarrhoea, persistent (chronic) diarrhoea and the prevention of gastroenteritis. We focused on the following outcomes that were selected a priori as clinically important: rate of admission to the hospital; length of stay in hospital; rate of return visits; administration of intravenous (IV) therapy owing to failure of oral rehydration therapy; adverse events and dysnatremia.

Main results: Children who received oral rehydration therapy had a shorter length of stay in hospital compared with children who received IV therapy [mean difference, MD = -1.20 days (-2.38, -0.02)]; however, the result was no longer significant when an outlying study was removed. Children who received IV therapy were at increased risk of developing phlebitis [risk difference, RD= - 0.02 (-0.04, -0.01)], while paralytic ileus was more common in children receiving ORT [RD = 0.03 (confidence interval, CI 0.01-0.05)]. Children who received oral ondansetron had lower hospital admission rates to the emergency department (ED) and lower rates of IV rehydration during their ED stay compared with children receiving placebo [risk ration, RR = 0.40 (CI 0.19-0.83) and RR = 0.41 (CI 0.29-0.59), respectively]. Children receiving IV ondansetron had lower hospital admission rates to the ED than patients receiving placebo [RR = 0.21 (0.05, 0.93)]. Probiotic use amongst children hospitalized following AGE reduced the mean duration of hospitalization by 1.12 days (CI -1.16, -0.38).

Conclusions: Given that oral rehydration is less invasive than IV rehydration with no evidence of important clinical differences, it is the first choice for rehydration in children with AGE and mild-to-moderate dehydration. As the vast majority of children with AGE do not require IV rehydration, oral ondansetron administration to children with significant vomiting should be performed to reduce the use of IV rehydration and the need for hospital admission. In children deemed too unwell to receive oral rehydration therapy, IV ondansetron administration is an option, as its use is associated with lower hospital admission rates. Although probiotics appear to be an effective option for the treatment of AGE amongst hospitalized children, outpatient data is lacking and more studies are urgently needed to determine the optimal organism, dosing and duration of treatment.

Keywords: anti‐emetics; dehydration; diarrhoea; gastroenteritis; probiotics; rehydration; vomiting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Administration, Intravenous
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adolescent
  • Antiemetics / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developed Countries
  • Female
  • Fluid Therapy*
  • Gastroenteritis / drug therapy
  • Gastroenteritis / epidemiology
  • Gastroenteritis / therapy*
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Ondansetron / therapeutic use*
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antiemetics
  • Ondansetron