Gastroenteritis: the ailment and its symptoms

Your symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps, but can you be sure it is the stomach flu? You may be suffering from acute gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Viral gastroenteritis, also called the stomach flu, is the most common type.  

What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is a common infectious illness worldwide, and viral pathogens cause most cases of infectious diseases. This acute diarrheal disease is generally self-limiting in well-developed countries but can have significant morbidity for younger and elderly patients. In underdeveloped countries, viral infectious diseases are a major cause of death, especially in infants. As per data issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), viral gastroenteritis can account for over 200,000 deaths of children per year worldwide.

Viral gastroenteritis is a known cause of vomiting, nausea, anorexia, dehydration, and weight loss. Isolated cases can occur, but outbreaks of viral infectious illness are common within close communities such as nursing facilities, daycare centers, and cruise ships. Acute gastroenteritis treatment is generally directed towards symptomatic improvement, focusing on hydration status. The viral illness resolves in the US and other developed countries within 1 to 3 days. However, in certain populations, including your children, elderly people., and the immunocompromised, hospitalization can occur without proper care, leading to increased mortality.

Possible viral gastroenteritis symptoms include nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. While some symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting) overlap, gastroenteritis is an illness with little else in common with the flu. Gastroenteritis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection that irritates and inflames the stomach and intestines. The infection spreads through contaminated food, water, or contact with an infected person. It can manifest as a slight tummy upset for a day or two with mild diarrhoea, severe loose motions, and vomiting for several days or more.

What are the causes of gastroenteritis?

Research has shown that norovirus, rotavirus, adenovirus, and arboviruses are common causes of acute gastroenteritis. Most of them are transmitted via the fecal-oral root, including contaminated food and water. Norovirus is more resistant to chlorine and ethanol inactivation than other viruses.

Norovirus: This is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in adults. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and occasionally stomach cramps. Additional signs are fatigue, muscle aches, headache, and low-grade fever (less than 101 F) with chills. Symptoms last for one or two days, with no long-term consequences.

Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe viral gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea) in infants and young children. Young children are contagious even before they develop symptoms.

Food poisoning from eating contaminated food can also cause gastroenteritis. Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Escherichia coli (E. coli) are among microbes that can cause food poisoning. Parasites, water contaminated by bacteria, and poor sanitation can also result in the ailment.

How is gastroenteritis treated?

Fluid replacement and certain diet restrictions are the mainstay of acute gastroenteritis treatment. However, most cases don’t require gastroenteritis treatments because the symptoms subside within a few days. If the condition becomes severe, then you should visit a doctor who may prescribe gastroenteritis medication.   

There are some home remedies you can follow to treat the symptoms of stomach virus. Drink plenty of fluids and electrolytes lost due to diarrhea and vomiting. Foods containing electrolytes and complex carbohydrates, like lean meats (chicken), potatoes, and whole grains, are recommended.

Elderly people with underlying health conditions should take oral rehydration solutions (electro powder) and regular fluids. These solutions are available in sachets and can be purchased over the counter from a local pharmacist. Oral rehydration solutions replace the salt, glucose, and other important minerals lost due to dehydration.

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Medications to treat gastroenteritis

If gastroenteritis symptoms are severe, visit your general physician. Here are some of the types of medications that can be prescribed:

Antidiarrheal drugs: Medication like Loperamide is sometimes prescribed to treat gastroenteritis. It slows down bowel movement by increasing water absorption from the gut. Please note that Loperamide is not prescribed to those with ulcerative colitis or diarrhoea containing blood or mucus.

Antiemetic medications Drugs like Metoclopramide, which relax the muscles, are used to prevent or reduce vomiting.

Antibiotics: Viral gastroenteritis treatment includes antibiotics that may shorten the course by 1 to 2 days. Doctors usually avoid prescribing antibiotics to treat acute gastroenteritis symptoms because most cases are caused by viruses instead of bacteria. Antibiotics are recommended if specific bacteria are responsible or have been identified in a stool sample.

In hospitalization cases, nutrients can be replaced intravenously by injecting them directly into the veins.


Gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the intestines or immune system, is common. The primary symptom is diarrhea, which is often accompanied by vomiting. Other common gastroenteritis symptoms include abdominal cramps, high fever, headache, and body aches. The symptoms are quite similar to the signs of stomach flu. The first line viral gastroenteritis treatment includes drinking plenty of fluids and replacing electrolytes. It can be prevented by practising good hygiene, like washing your hands frequently or sanitising the kitchen surfaces and utensils after cooking with raw meat or eggs. Moreover, try to keep raw meat and poultry products away from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination.

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