Gastroenteritis, commonly called as "stomach flu" is a condition that causes inflammation and irritation of the stomach and intestines. It is usually caused by ingesting contaminated food and water or through other bacterial and viral infections. The severity of the condition may range from mild stomach upset to severe diarrhea which lasts for several days. Gastritis is not a life-threatening condition and does not require treatment, however, in severe cases, it may cause dehydration that ultimately results in shock or coma. Various treatment options are available for effective management of gastroenteritis.
Watery diarrhea and vomiting are the most common symptoms of gastroenteritis. The other symptoms include:
- Appearance of mucus in stools
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Nausea, vomiting or both
- Occasional muscle aches or headache
- Low-grade fever
Due to lack of body fluids cause by longer duration of gastroenteritis, the patient may experience severe dehydration which results in various symptoms like tiredness, dizziness, dry mouth and tongue, sunken eyes, muscular cramps. Symptoms of severe dehydration are confusion, rapid heart rate, decreased amount of urine, and sometime coma. If the patient experience any of the above symptoms, meet the physician immediately because severe dehydration is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.
Gastroenteritis can be caused by various reasons like having close contact with someone infected with gastroenteritis, ingesting contaminated food and water ingested with microbes such as:
- Virus- rotavirus and norovirus
- Bacteria- E.coli , Salmonella, and Shigella
- Parasites - Giardia, Cryptosporidium
Avoid intake of meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, shellfish are these are commonly contaminated food items.
Gastroenteritis is usually diagnosed based on the symptoms present. First, medical history is assessed to understand about the medications used and to rule out if the reason for gastroenteritis is drug-induced.
Few other tests are recommended to confirm the disease condition.
- Physical examination to check for the signs of dehydration
- Stool test to evaluate the cause of gastroenteritis and to check if the stool is accompanied by blood or mucus
The most important treatment option is drinking fluids to prevent dehydration. If the patient suspects gastroenteritis, he or she should stop eating for few hours to let the stomach settle. Other treatment options include:
Usually, gastroenteritis is a self-limiting condition. However, when the condition is more severe, the physician would recommend antidiarrheal medications and other medications such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (for fever or a headache), antimicrobials (for Shigella or Campylobacter infection), and probiotics (to replace the lost essential bacteria of the body).
If the condition is not stable after several days, the physician would order for stool testing. These tests help to understand if there is any need for prescribing antibiotics. Antibiotics are required if the gastroenteritis occurs due to bacteria. In the case of viral gastroenteritis, the physician would not prescribe antibiotics.
Making lifestyle changes like:
- Avoiding spicy and deep fried foods
- Eating bland food, easily digest soft food
- Drinking plenty of fluids or liquids to replace the lost electrolytes
- Drinking water even if the patient vomits
- Taking rehydration drinks as it provides good balance of water, salts, and sugar
Self-management and Prevention
The bacteria causing gastroenteritis can spread very easily from person to person. To prevent the spread, avoid close contact with the person who is infected with gastroenteritis. Following these precautions may also help in preventing gastroenteritis:
- Practicing good hygiene in the kitchen
- Avoiding touching contaminated surfaces or objects
- Being cautious about where and what to eat
- Avoiding consuming the foodstuff that is not properly cooked or is left uncovered
- Washing hands always before eating and drinking
- Taking vaccination for rotavirus to avoid viral gastroenteritis
- Carrying boiled and filtered water when traveling to less developed areas