Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is the most common condition which is also referred as “stomach flu”. Nearly 10 million cases of gastroenteritis are recorded per year in India. What is gastroenteritis? Gastroenteritis is the most common type of illness which is commonly called “food poisoning,” because it mainly occurs due to food and water contamination.

The illness is triggered by the infection and inflammation of the digestive system. It is not a life-threatening condition and does not require treatment in all the cases as it is self-limiting. In severe cases, it may lead to severe dehydration that ultimately results in shock or coma.

Causes

The main causes of gastroenteritis include viruses, bacteria, parasites, chemicals, medications, and bacterial toxins.

Diagnosis

Gastroenteritis is easily diagnosed based on the symptoms present. But, your doctor would order for some more tests to confirm the underlying cause.

  • Your doctor would ask your medical history to understand about the medications you use and to rule out if the reason for your gastroenteritis is drug-induced.
  • Your doctor would ask you about the symptoms, which is very important to confirm that the condition is gastroenteritis. Your doctor would perform a physical examination to check the signs of dehydration.
  • Your doctor would order for a stool test to evaluate the cause of gastroenteritis if the stool is accompanied by blood or mucus.

Prevention

The bacteria that cause gastroenteritis can spread very easily from person to person. To prevent the spread, you must avoid close contact with the person who is infected with gastroenteritis.

Prevention is always better than cure. Follow some measures to prevent gastroenteritis.

  • Practice good hygiene in the kitchen.
  • Avoid touching contaminated surfaces or objects.
  • Be cautious about where you eat and what you eat.
  • Avoid consuming the foodstuff that is not properly cooked or is left uncovered.
  • Wash your hands always before eating and drinking.
  • Be vaccinated for rotavirus to avoid viral gastroenteritis.
  • Carry boiled and filtered water when traveling to less developed areas.

The main symptoms of gastroenteritis are diarrhea, vomiting, headache, fever, nausea, muscle cramps, and abdominal pain. Because of severe diarrhea and vomiting, you may feel exhausted and dehydrated.

Signs of dehydration Signs of severe dehydration
In children Dry skin Lethargic Weakness Sunken eyes Passing scant urine Pale skin Cold limbs Drowsiness Increased breath
In adults Tiredness Headache Dizziness Sunken eyes Muscular cramps Coma Confusion Weakness Increased heart rate

If dehydration is severe, it is considered as a medical emergency and requires medical attention. So, if you experience any of the above mentioned signs of severe dehydration, consult your doctor immediately.

The main goal of the treatment is preventing the dehydration or treating the dehydration if it has developed. You must follow the tips given below:

  • You must avoid spicy and deep fried foods.
  • You must eat bland food, easily digest soft food.
  • You must drink plenty of fluids or liquids to replace the lost electrolytes.
  • You must not avoid drinking water even if you have symptoms, such as vomiting.
  • You must have rehydration drinks as it provides good balance of water, salts, and sugar

Usually, gastroenteritis is a self-limiting condition. However, when the condition is more severe, your doctor would recommend antidiarrheal medications for the treatment of gastroenteritis. This help to reduce the frequency of the visit to the washroom.

You may also need to take paracetamol or ibuprofen as prescribed if there is fever or a headache. If the condition is not stable after several days, then your doctor would order for stool testing. These tests help your doctor 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, your doctor would not prescribe antibiotics.

Antimicrobials are generally not prescribed except for cases such as traveler’s diarrhea or if the cause of gastroenteritis is by Shigella or Campylobacter.

Your doctor would prescribe probiotics to help with diarrhea; probiotics helps replace the lost essential bacteria of the body. They help your body in coping up with diarrhea.