Is It Safe to Use Ondansetron for Children?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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Most medical literature advises further study to determine if ondansetron is safe for treating acute gastroenteritis, commonly called stomach flu, in children, especially children under the age of three. The drug has received approval in some areas to treat nausea and vomiting linked to chemotherapy in cancer patients, but has not gained widespread approval for gastroenteritis in children. Some doctors opt to use the drug after weighing risks versus benefits.

Ondansetron for children might prove effective to stop bouts of vomiting caused by viral, bacterial, or parasitical infections. Studies show the drug is useful to treat nausea from chemotherapy and radiation therapy in children with cancer. Pediatricians generally do not recommend drugs to treat stomach flu, but a survey showed more than half of doctors prescribe ondansetron for children if a serious risk of dehydration exists.

Several studies of emergency room patients show ondansetron for children stopped vomiting and reduced the need for intravenous fluids due to gastroenteritis. Children receiving the drug also needed fewer hospital stays or shorter visits. One study showed patients given the medicine had a higher rate of return visits for diarrhea to a doctor, but another study showed opposite results.


Experts are not sure how ondansetron for children controls vomiting, but they believe the drug might inhibit the release of serotonin in the stomach and intestines. It might also work on the central nervous system to control abdominal spasms. Some doctors think the drug’s action might be a combination of both factors.

Gastroenteritis represents a common childhood ailment, with repeated bouts of flu-like symptoms, such as fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most children recover with adequate liquids to replace fluid loss. In more serious cases, intravenous fluids might be necessary to treat dehydration. If the infection is bacterial, antibiotics might also help.

The drug might be given before cancer treatment to control nausea associated with chemotherapy and radiation. It might also be effective to prevent nausea connected with anesthesia used in surgery. Ondansetron might be administered before, during, or after surgical procedures. Studies show the drug ineffective on motion sickness.

The number-one side effect reported by patients taking this drug was headache. Constipation is also common, along with a sensation of hot skin. Some patients receiving chemotherapy, other drugs, and ondansetron suffered liver failure. Heart problems, including irregular heartbeat and chest pain, represent other side effects, along with blurred vision, especially when the drug is administered intravenously at high dosage.


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