Overview of Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is a condition in which the gastrointestinal tract, such as the stomach and the intestines, become irritated and inflamed.   Gastroenteritis is sometimes referred to as “stomach flu” even though it may not be related to influenza at all.  Gastroenteritis is usually caused by viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections.  The most common way infection in are: food (especially seafood), contaminated water, contact with an infected person, unwashed hands, or dirty utensils.  Viruses that cause gastroenteritis can last 1-2 days.  Cases of bacterial gastroenteritis can last up to a week or more.

The most common and main symptom of gastroenteritis is diarrhea.  When the colon becomes infected it is unable to retain fluids, which causes an individual to experience diarrhea.  Other common symptoms or gastroenteritis are: abdominal pain/cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, unintentional weight loss, sweats, clamminess, muscle pain/stiffness, and incontinence.  People who are at a higher risk of contracting gastroenteritis include: children in daycare, students living in dormitories, military personal and travelers.  People with weakened immune systems from a disease of medication are usually affected more severely.  Infants also have severe cases of gastroenteritis because their immune systems are not fully developed.
If you suspect that you may have gastroenteritis it is important to visit your doctor.  Your doctor may order a stool culture to determine the specific virus that may be causing the gastroenteritis.  Other tests may be performed to exclude other digestive conditions or diseases.  If it is determined that you do have gastroenteritis your doctor may advice you to allow your body to fight the disease off on its own, which it usually can do.   The most important factor in treating gastroenteritis is making sure that you intake plenty of fluids so that you do not get dehydrated.  Treatment with antibiotics will not be effective if the gastroenteritis is caused by a viral infection.  If the infection is caused by bacteria, antibiotics may be prescribed.

1. “Gastroenteritis.”  Cleveland Clinic.  The Cleveland Clinic Foundation.  April 4, 2012.  Web 8 March 2013.
2. “Gastroenteritis.”  MedlinePlus.  U.S. National Library of Medicine.  January 14, 2013.  Web 8 March 2013.