Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining that usually presents with mild to moderate symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting. Most cases of gastroenteritis – especially those caused by a microorganism – do not require treatment, as symptoms typically resolve within a few days. However people with complications of gastroenteritis, such as electrolyte imbalance or dehydration, as well as people with chronic or recurrent gastroenteritis may require medical intervention.
Did you know…
that viral gastroenteritis is the second most common viral illness in America? It is often referred to as the ‘stomach flu’, but despite the name, gastroenteritis is not a form of the flu at all. Because gastroenteritis is an illness of the digestive system, it is often preventable with proper hand-washing and food preparation techniques. Vaccines are also available to prevent rotavirus – a common cause of gastroenteritis in children.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is most often caused by a virus. The norovirus and rotavirus are responsible for many infections in the U.S. It can be spread by contact with an infected person or by consuming contaminated foods or water. Less commonly, gastroenteritis is caused by bacteria, such as campylobacter and salmonella. Rarely, a person may develop gastroenteritis from a parasitic infection, such as giardia.
Some people develop chronic or recurrent gastroenteritis that is unrelated to a viral, bacterial or parasitic infection. Instead, the stomach and intestines become inflamed as a result of exposure to heavy metals, toxins, or certain medications. Some people can even experience gastrointestinal reactions to acidic foods, such as citrus and tomatoes.
What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?
A person with gastroenteritis may have difficulty keeping foods and liquids in his or her body. Symptoms most often include cramping, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain, and in some cases, fever and chills.
Who needs treatment for gastroenteritis?
Most people recover from gastroenteritis on their own without the need for medical intervention. However, some people may require treatment for the illness or complications thereof. The most common need for treatment is dehydration, which can occur as a result of vomiting and diarrhea. This is especially common in young children and the elderly, as well as people with compromised immune systems. Antibiotics or anti-parasitic medications may also be necessary to treat gastroenteritis that is caused by bacteria or parasites.