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Gastroenteritis (or called stomach flu) is an inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract commonly caused by viral, bacterial or parasitic infections. Anyone can be affected by gastroenteritis, which causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting. Read more to keep you and your family away from gastroenteritis!
Gastroenteritis is the inflammation and irritation of the lining of the stomach and intestines. It is mainly caused by infections of various pathogens.
Viral infection is a more common cause of gastroenteritis. The viruses could spread through contaminated water, food, or surfaces. Some examples of these viruses include:
Bacterial gastroenteritis can be easily transmitted from people with poor hygiene. By not washing their hands, they can contaminate foods and surfaces which you then touch and contract the bacteria. Common types of bacteria include:
Gastroenteritis caused by parasitic infection is uncommon in developed cities. They usually spread through fecal-oral routes. Parasites that can cause gastroenteritis include:
Signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis vary, depending on the causes and severity. In general, common gastroenteritis symptoms include:
For viral gastroenteritis, symptoms usually appear 1-2 days after the infection and get better within 1-3 days, whereas the symptoms of bacterial gastroenteritis typically develop 1-5 days after the infection.
If your symptoms do not improve (e.g. vomiting for more than 1-2 days, or diarrhea that continues for more than several days) or you have bloody diarrhea, high fever, dizziness or no urine output, you should seek medical help immediately. For infants and children who have persistent vomiting for several hours, sunken eyes, or crying without tears, seek medical attention promptly.
Gastroenteritis can affect anyone at any age and at any time, but the following conditions can increase the risk:
The main complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. It happens when you lose too much water and electrolytes by vomiting and diarrhea. Therefore, it is important to intake adequate amounts of water during gastroenteritis to prevent dehydration and restore electrolyte balance. As long as you drink enough to replace fluids you lose from vomiting and diarrhea, mild dehydration usually is not a problem. Common dehydration symptoms include:
If these symptoms do not improve after drinking plenty of fluids, or you have persistent diarrhea and vomiting, you should seek medical attention immediately because severe dehydration may require intravenous treatment in the hospital. If dehydration is left untreated, it could lead to coma, hypovolemic shock or kidney failure.
Diagnosis of gastroenteritis can be simply done by medical history and physical examination of your signs and symptoms. Your doctor might take a stool sample or order blood tests in severe cases.
Gastroenteritis usually clears up within a week, depending on the type of infection. Therefore, the aims of treatment are mainly preventing dehydration and relieving signs and symptoms. Treatment options of gastroenteritis include:
To prevent dehydration and ease your symptoms, some at-home care strategies are recommended:
Gastroenteritis is highly contagious. To prevent getting infected, the following steps can lower the risk:
It really depends on which pathogen causes it. In general, gastroenteritis would get better within 1-3 days, while it can also last for a week or longer. If you have vomiting for more than 1-2 days or diarrhea that lasts for more than several days, you should seek medical help immediately.
Symptoms of gastroenteritis include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain, fever or chills, headache, and loss of appetite.
Gastroenteritis is mainly caused by viruses or bacteria. You can be infected by eating contaminated foods or drinking contaminated water. The pathogen can also be contracted by touching contaminated surfaces. Under-cooked meats and unpasteurized milk can also transmit the pathogen.
Try to eat as small amounts of food as possible. It is recommended to have a bland diet. Foods like banana, rice, apple and toast are easy to digest and good for gastroenteritis.
This article is medically reviewed by Dr. Ernest Han Fai Li. Dr. Li is a specialist in gastroenterology and hepatology practicing at the Central Gastroenterology & Hepatology Center currently. Dr. Li served in the public hospital for 12 years after his graduation from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2004. At the same time, Dr. Li is a medical consultant to the Hong Kong Fire Service Officers Association, a medical advisor to the Board of Chung Shak-Hei (Cheung Chau) Home for the Aged and the chairperson of the District 303 Lions Club Organ Donation Committee.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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