Gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea) refers to any irritation or inflammation of the lining of the stomach or intestines. It is a common cause of acute vomiting and diarrhea. It is primarily due to a virus, but it may also result from bacterial or parasitic infections; antibiotic side effects; food allergies or food poisoning. Gastroenteritis is generally more severe in babies, children and the elderly.
Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite
- Blood in the stools due to microorganisms (tiny organisms that produce disease)
- Fever and generalized body aches
- Signs of dehydration (lethargy, sunken eyes, decreased urination, weight loss or dry skin)
What your doctor can do:
- Diagnose the disease by asking about your symptoms, doing a physical exam, and ordering laboratory blood tests, and x-rays.
- Order blood and stool cultures to identify the offending microorganism.
- Rule out other diseases or conditions such as appendicitis.
- Prescribe medicines to control nausea.
- In rare instances prescribe antibiotics (which are only helpful for certain bacteria and can be harmful for other causes of diarrhea).
- If serious, hospitalize patient to administer intravenous and electrolyte (salts) solutions.
What you can do:
- Finish antibiotic and anti-parasitic prescriptions even though you may start to feel better.
- Get plenty of rest until nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever subside.
- Start with small sips of clear liquids like tea, ginger ale, Sprite, clear broth or gelatin.
- Offer electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade mixed in a 50/50 solution with water or Pedialyte (children) to limit dehydration.
- If you or your child is vomiting give fluids very slowly (as little as a teaspoon every minute)
- If you or your child are having diarrhea but no vomiting then take fluids by mouth freely
- If tolerate liquids for 12 hours, offer a bland diet
- BRAT diet for children (Bananas, Rice/rice cereal, Applesauce, and Toast)
- Do not use over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicines; they may worsen your condition.
- Wash your hands before handling food and especially after using the bathroom.
- Store food properly; keep food prep area clean; and avoid raw or undercooked meats, seafood, or eggs and non-pasteurized dairy products.
- Talk to your doctor about preventing gastroenteritis while traveling in foreign countries.
What you can expect:
Most people recover from gastroenteritis within 5 days without complications.
Complications may include severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and infections.
Contact your doctor if the nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea continues for more than a week, or if you notice blood in the stools. Contact your doctor if you notice signs of dehydration such as dry mouth, lack of tears, decreased amount of urination, or acting lethargic.
Seek immediate medical assistance if your infant or small child develops gastroenteritis.