What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the intestines that is usually caused by an infection. Some people may think they have the stomach flu but the more correct term is gastroenteritis. Most infections are caused by a virus but infections can also be caused by bacteria or parasites. It spreads through contaminated food or water and contact with an infected person. The most common problem with gastroenteritis is dehydration. This happens when you lose too much fluid from vomiting and diarrhea.
How common is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is common. It most commonly affects babies, young children, older adults and people with weak immune systems. The best prevention is frequent hand washing. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?
The common signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis are:
- Abdominal pain or cramps;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Weight loss;
- Chills or headache.
Depending on the cause, these symptoms can occur 1 to 3 days after being infected, and often last 1 to 2 days, or may be as long as 10 days.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor, if you have any of the following:
- Continuous loose stool in 24 hours or blood in stool;
- Vomiting that last longer than 2 days or vomiting blood;
- If you are dehydrated (Signs include thirsty, dry mouth, dark yellow urine, little or no urine dizzy);
- High fever of 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) or higher.
For infants and children, you should contact your doctor if your child:
- Have a high fever of 38.9 degrees C (102 degrees F);
- Seems fussy or irritable;
- Seems lethargic or weak;
- Have bloody diarrhea;
- Have signs of dehydration;
- Have been vomiting for longer than several hours;
- Have not wet a diaper within 6 hours;
- Is sleeping abnormally.
Know the causes
What causes gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis can be caused viral infections, bacterial infections or parasite infections. It is usually spread by contaminated food or water and contact from an infected person.
For viral infections, the most common type of virus that causes gastroenteritis is norovirus and rotavirus.
In some rare cases, bacteria that cause gastroenteritis are E.coli and salmonella. These are usually found in contaminated uncooked poultry or eggs.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for gastroenteritis?
There are many risk factors for gastroenteritis, such as:
- Elders usually have a weaker immune system that makes them more prone to infection. Babies and young children also have weak immune systems.
- Weak immune systems. There are conditions that can lower the immune system such as HIV and AIDS as well as receiving chemotherapy.
- Areas of poor water sanitation. If your area has limited access to clean water, you are more at risk for gastroenteritis.
- Poor hygiene. When you do not wash your hands frequently, you are more at risk to get infected.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is gastroenteritis diagnosed?
To give you a proper diagnosis, your doctor may perform the following tests:
- Medical history and physical exam;
- Test your stool sample for any bacteria or parasites.
How is gastroenteritis treated?
Treatment options for gastroenteritis usually involve plenty of rest and hydration. Your doctor may prescribe medication to relieve and manage your symptoms. In cases where you infection is bacterial, antibiotics may be prescribed.
If you suspect you have gastroenteritis, you should:
- Stop eating for a few hours to let your stomach rest.
- Drink plenty of liquids.
- Slowly start eating with foods that are easy to digest. These foods may include crackers, bananas or rice porridge.
- Avoid milk, alcohol, caffeine, solid or fatty foods.
- Get plenty of rest.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage gastroenteritis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with gastroenteritis:
- Follow your doctor’s instructions properly;
- Get plenty of rest;
- Drink plenty of liquids;
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom;
- Start eating soft foods that are easy to digest;
- Practice proper hygiene methods when handling food.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Ferri, Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012 Print version. Page 293
Porter, R. S., Kaplan, J. L., Homeier, B. P., & Albert, R. K. (2009). The Merck manual home health handbook. Whitehouse Station, NJ, Merck Research Laboratories. Print version. Page 145
Gastroenteritis. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/viral-gastroenteritis/basics/definition/con-20019350. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Gastroenteritis. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000252.htm. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017