What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is a virus often called “infectious diarrhea” caused by an infection of the stomach and small bowel that results in symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting. Children, adults and elderly patients can develop this illness.

What are the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis?

The infection will typically cause either diarrhea and/or vomiting. Sometimes patients can develop other symptoms such as fevers, headaches or muscle aches, belly pain or cramping and loss of appetite.

Because dehydration (losing too much water) can occur if with diarrhea and vomiting. That can make you have a dark urine and feel thirsty, dizzy and very tired. This can be life-threatening in babies and elderly patients, so it is important to continue drinking fluids throughout the day, even though they may not stay down.

These symptoms usually last about 2 weeks.

How did I get gastroenteritis?

Patients can develop this illness in the following circumstances:

  • Touching an infected person and then not washing their hands
  • Sharing food or drink with someone who has the infection.

How is gastroenteritis treated?

Most patients will improve on their own. Antibiotics are not used to treat this condition. Most of the time, there is no necessary “treatment” except to drink plenty of water.

People with become dehydrated might need treatment in the hospital. They will typically receive hydration through an IV.

Can this be prevented?

Yes, by following some recommendations below:

  • Hand washing with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper or eating food
  • Get the Rotavirus vaccination for your baby
  • Do I need to be tested to discover if I have viral gastroenteritis?

    Tests are not routinely needed in patients with viral gastroenteritis. Make sure you convey all your symptoms to your doctor. If necessary, the doctor can determine if any additional testing is needed.

    If there are more severe signs such as blood in the stool or dehydration, your doctor might order other tests including urine tests, stool tests and blood tests.

  • What can I do at home to feel better?

    Drinking plenty of fluids is very important to avoid dehydration. Sports drinks contain electrolytes and can help prevent dehydration from occurring. This can help older children and adults.
    Babies can benefit from over the counter drinks called “oral rehydration solutions” such as Pedialyte.

    Patients who have viral gastroenteritis are advised to avoid drinking juice or soda as these tend to make the diarrhea worse. Avoid eating foods with a lot of fat and sugars. It is best to eat lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole-grain bread.

    Sometimes medications (such as Imodium), can help slow down the bowel movements. These medications can be taken if you are an adult younger than 65 and have diarrhea without any fevers or blood in the stool. These medications should NOT be given to children or elderly patients.

  • When should I call the doctor or nurse?

    Call the doctor or nurse if you have any of the following:

    • Symptoms of dehydration
    • Diarrhea or vomiting lasting many days
    • Vomiting blood, have bloody diarrhea, or have severe belly pain
    • Cannot tolerate drinking or eating for several hours, especially if you are a child or elderly
    • If you have not urinated anything for more than 6 hours. In cases of babies, if the baby has not had a wet diaper for 4 to 6 hours
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