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Gastroenteritis: The "Stomach Flu" You Want to Avoid

The "Stomach Flu" You Want to Avoid

What is gastroenteritis?
How do you get gastroenteritis?
How can I tell if I have gastroenteritis?
How can I find out if I have gastroenteritis?
How can I get rid of gastroenteritis?

What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is an infection of the digestive system that leads to vomiting and diarrhea. It's also called "stomach flu." back to top

How do you get gastroenteritis?
You can get gastroenteritis from viruses, from food poisoning, and from bacteria.

Viruses are by far the most common cause. An infected person can easily pass viruses to someone else by direct contact. The virus can also be passed to someone who eats food prepared or handled by someone who has it.

Food poisoning, another form of gastroenteritis, comes from eating contaminated food. Usually the food has been undercooked, or has sat out at room temperature for a long time allowing bacteria to grow on it. You may not be able to tell that the food is contaminated because it might look and taste just fine.

Bacteria that cause gastroenteritis are usually passed through contaminated water supplies. It's not very common here in the United States, but people are often sick with it in underdeveloped countries. back to top

How can I tell if I have gastroenteritis?
Here are some symptoms of gastroenteritis:
  • Diarrhea. This is the most common symptom. It happens when the lining of your intestines is irritated and doesn't properly remove the water from digested food.
  • Vomiting. When the lining of the stomach is irritated, the stomach may send the food right back where it came from.
  • Crampy belly pain.
  • Fever.
  • Feeling generally sick, achy, and tired (also called malaise). back to top
How can I find out if I have gastroenteritis?
Fortunately, most cases of gastroenteritis go away by themselves in a few days. If you don't feel better in a few days, or if you have severe symptoms, you should see your health professional.

It's important to keep from getting dehydrated. Dehydration is the medical term for losing too much of the water in your body. If you are vomiting a lot and unable to keep down liquids, or if you are having many episodes of diarrhea, you could become dehydrated.

If you are dehydrated, your health professional may hook you up to an IV to replace the fluids in your body. Getting fluids through an IV puts the water back into your body faster. It may be the only way to take in water if you've been vomiting a lot and cannot hold anything down. You may need to have some tests done, including blood tests and sending a sample of the diarrhea to the lab to check for bacteria or viruses. back to top

How can I get rid of gastroenteritis?
Most forms of gastroenteritis will go away by themselves in a few days, so you don't have to treat them. The most important thing is to keep from becoming dehydrated. Try drinking ginger ale or sports drinks. Flat cola or flat ginger ale also work well. These liquids help you replace the water, sugar, and electrolytes that you lose from vomiting and diarrhea. If you're still vomiting, drink the liquids in small amounts because they may sit better in your stomach. When you feel up to eating and the vomiting has stopped, try white rice and other starchy foods, such as bananas and plain, white baked potatoes.

There are many nonprescription medications that you can buy in the drugstore that will help control your symptoms. These medications include Pepto-BismolŽ and KaopectateŽ. They don't treat the cause of the gastroenteritis, but they can help you feel better by decreasing the vomiting and diarrhea.

If lab tests show that bacteria are the cause of your gastroenteritis, your health professional will give you a prescription for antibiotics to help cure the problem. back to top

Last Modified Date: 4/4/2001
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