Gastroenteritis

Irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Gastroenteritis is a general term and is often used when there is a nonspecific, uncertain, or unknown cause.

Frequent Signs and Symptoms

  • diarrhea is the main symptom, and sometimes, the only one; diarrhea may range from 2 or 3 loose stools to many watery stools
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach cramps, pain, or tenderness
  • fever or chills
  • appetite loss
  • weakness
  • dehydration

Causes

Viral infections are the most common cause. They are spread by contact with an infected person or by touching an object that has germs on it. Contaminated food or water is another source for infection.

Other causes are:

  • bacterial or parasitic infections
  • food-borne toxins
  • shellfish and marine animal poisoning
  • food intolerance
  • drug-caused diarrhea
  • colitis

Risk Increases With

  • crowded living or working conditions
  • schools, dormitories, camps, or cruise ships
  • weak immune system due to illness or drugs
  • use of drugs, such as antibiotics, laxatives, or antacids
  • contaminated food or water
  • travel to foreign countries

Preventative Measures

  • no specific preventative measures
  • wash hands often to prevent spread of any germs
  • don’t share eating utensils or towels
  • use safety precautions in storing and cooking foods
  • when traveling in foreign countries, take care to eat food and drink water that is known to be safe
  • vaccines against some viruses are being studied

Expected Outcomes

The prognosis is excellent. Diarrhea and other symptoms usually clear up in 2 to 5 days. Adults may feel somewhat weak and fatigued for about a week.

Possible Complications

Serious dehydration that requires special treatment. Other complications are rare.

Diagnosis & Treatment

General Measures

  • In most cases, this disorder will be self-treated at home. Call your health provider if symptoms are severe or if they cause you any concern.
  • Your health care provider may do a physical exam. Medical tests may include studies of blood and stool.
  • Treatment usually involves rest and fluids. There is no specific drug for viral infections.
  • It is not necessary to keep persons with gastroenteritis away from others. Try to avoid close contact if possible.
  • Hospital care may be needed if dehydration is severe.

Medications

Drugs are usually not needed for treatment. If symptoms are severe or prolonged, you may take antinausea and antidiarrhea drugs such as Pepto-Bismol or loperamide.

Activity

Get extra rest until diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and fever are improved. Be sure to have access to a toilet or bedpan.

Diet

  • suck ice chips or drink small amounts of clear fluids often
  • once symptoms improve, try a diet of complex carbohydrates (rice, wheat, potatoes, bread, cereal, and lean meat such as chicken); milk and dairy products usually do not need to be limited
  • avoid high-sugar foods or fatty foods for a few days

Notify Our Office If

  • symptoms of gastroenteritis last longer than 2 days
  • symptoms continue or worsen after treatment
  • blood or mucus appears in the stool

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