Gastroenteritis (stomach flu): symptoms and treatment

Gastroenteritis (better known as the stomach flu) is a disease that occurs when the lining of the intestines becomes inflamed. This usually happens when you consume contaminated food and water. As a result, symptoms such as watery or loose diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain, and cramping are common.

This infection is extremely common, most often occurring in the fall and winter months between November and March. In fact, one in six Americans develops gastroenteritis each year from eating contaminated food. Fortunately, there are several treatment options that can help reduce your symptoms and shorten the duration of your infection.

Symptoms of gastroenteritis usually appear suddenly. The most common symptoms of infection include:

The symptoms of gastroenteritis are mostly mild and can be controlled with adequate rest. But in some cases, infection can lead to severe dehydration. Some people are more susceptible to dehydration than others, including:

  • Seniors over 65 years old
  • baby
  • People with underlying health conditions or autoimmune diseases
  • pregnant woman

In most cases, people develop gastroenteritis from consuming contaminated food and water. The most common cause of gastroenteritis is a viral infection, but bacterial and parasitic infections can also cause symptoms.

You may be at risk for gastroenteritis if you are infected with any of the following viruses:

  • Norovirus: Norovirus, the most common virus that causes gastroenteritis in the United States of all ages, is highly contagious and spread through the consumption of contaminated food and water. Most norovirus infections occur between November and April. Symptoms of gastroenteritis usually appear within one to two days of infection.
  • Rotavirus: This viral infection is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in infants aged 3 to 15 months. Rotavirus is spread when you come into contact with infected feces. Notably, the number of rotavirus infections in the United States has decreased significantly due to the advent of rotavirus vaccines. If your baby does get an infection, you may develop symptoms within one to three days.
  • Adenovirus: Another virus that primarily affects children. Most children infected with adenovirus are under two years old. The infection is spread through contact with infected feces and respiratory droplets expelled when coughing or sneezing. Gastroenteritis symptoms usually begin 2 to 10 days after contracting this infection.

While viral infections are the most common cause of gastroenteritis symptoms, you may also get sick from:

  • Bacterial infections: Harmful bacteria can invade and adhere to the lining of the small intestine.Common types of bacteria that can cause gastroenteritis include Clostridium perfringens, Vibrio cholerae, Campylobacter jejuni, enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC), Salmonella, and Shigella.
  • Parasitic infection: Certain intestinal parasites, e.g. Cryptosporidium and Giardia Sticking to the lining of the small intestine can lead to gastroenteritis. Parasites are also spread through the consumption of contaminated food and water.
  • drug: In rare cases, certain medications (such as antacids, antibiotics, and chemotherapy drugs) may cause gastroenteritis symptoms.

In most cases, you probably won’t need medical attention because the symptoms of gastroenteritis will slowly go away with home remedies, such as getting enough rest and drinking fluids. But if you suspect you have stomach flu symptoms and they don’t go away, consider seeing your healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis.

Your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination and ask about your medical history. They may also ask questions such as:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • Have you recently been exposed to someone who may have the stomach flu?
  • Have you traveled recently?
  • Is it possible that you ate contaminated food or drank contaminated water?
  • Do you have any underlying health conditions that may make your symptoms worse?

Your provider may also order additional tests to confirm the diagnosis of gastroenteritis. These include:

  • Stool testing, which checks stool samples for the presence of bacteria, viruses, and parasites
  • Sigmoidoscopy, in which a small tube with a camera is inserted to check for inflammation of the large intestine and colon
  • Blood tests to determine whether abnormalities in red and white blood cells may be causing symptoms

There is no single treatment that specifically improves gastroenteritis symptoms. Instead, a health care provider may recommend a variety of treatments to improve your condition. Treatment options may include:

  • get enough rest
  • Drink plenty of water, sports drinks, soups or broths to offset fluid loss from diarrhea and vomiting
  • If you can’t keep water or food down, try replacing lost fluids with intravenous (intravenous) fluids (given through a vein)
  • Take medicines that can help reduce symptoms, including anti-nausea medicines (to eliminate nausea), antidiarrheal medicines (to reduce diarrhea), antibiotics (if your symptoms are caused by a bacterial infection), antiparasitic medicines (if the infection is caused by a parasite) caused by insects)
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy or sweet foods until symptoms improve

Fortunately, gastroenteritis is preventable. You can prevent infection with the following strategies:

  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly before eating and after using the toilet
  • Handle food safely by washing fruits and vegetables and cooking raw meat at high temperatures to avoid contamination
  • Avoid contact with infected people
  • Get rotavirus vaccine
  • Limit touching your face to reduce the risk of spreading germs from your hands to your mouth or nose

Gastroenteritis is usually mild, but some people may be at risk of dehydration, the most common complication of the disease. If you are dehydrated (or don’t have enough water in your body), you may experience the following symptoms:

If you are dehydrated, it is crucial to drink plenty of water. Severe and untreated dehydration can lead to more serious complications, such as:

Gastroenteritis usually lasts a few days, and most people recover without complications. The symptoms of gastroenteritis are usually mild. However, older adults, infants, pregnant women, and people with underlying health conditions may experience more severe and longer-lasting symptoms.

The best way to improve symptoms is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. If symptoms do not subside, consider seeing a health care provider for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.

Gastroenteritis is a disease that causes inflammation of the lining of the intestines. The most common symptom of gastroenteritis is watery diarrhea. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Viral infections such as norovirus are the most common cause of gastroenteritis. Although the symptoms of gastroenteritis can be uncomfortable, getting enough rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking medications can shorten the course of the illness and improve symptoms.

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