What is Gastroenteritis?

What is Gastroenteritis?

By Karlee J. Ausk, MD
Gastroenterologist

This past week, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was hospitalized with a “stomach bug”. Gastroenteritis (also called the “stomach flu”) is the second most common illness in the United States. So, chances are good that your family has been affected by gastroenteritis already this year!

What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and intestines causing symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, and fever. If a person is not able to keep up with fluid losses from diarrhea and vomiting, then they can become dehydrated. Gastroenteritis occurs year-round and affects people of all ages. Those who are young, old, or have a suppressed immune system are more susceptible to severe gastroenteritis and to dehydration.

What causes gastroenteritis?
The majority of cases are caused by a viral infection (occasionally, a bacterial infection) transmitted through contact with another sick person or contaminated food/drink.

I have gastroenteritis, how can I feel better?
Rest and fluids! Staying hydrated is the most important step to controlling gastroenteritis. Some good options for staying hydrated include sports drinks or oral rehydration solutions (such as Pedialyte in drug and grocery stores).

I typically do not recommend any anti-diarrheal medications as this may even prolong the illness. In addition, antibiotic therapy is not helpful unless a specific bacterial cause is identified.

When should I call my doctor?
If you have questions or concerns you should always call your provider. However, things to watch for if you have gastroenteritis include:

  • Signs of dehydration (dizziness, confusion, not urinating);
  • Blood in vomit or diarrhea;
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts longer than a few days;
  • Inability to keep any liquids down.

Can I prevent gastroenteritis?
Wash your hands! Using careful hand hygiene when around others and when preparing foods can help prevent gastroenteritis.

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