Your symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps, but can you be sure it is the stomach flu? Chances are, you may be suffering from gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines.
What is gastroenteritis?
While some of the symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting) overlap, gastroenteritis is an illness that has little else in common with the flu.
Reportedly the second most common illness in the US today, 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 diarrhea or severe loose motions and vomiting for several days or more.
The primary symptom of gastroenteritis is diarrhea which is often accompanied by vomiting. Abdominal cramps, high fever, headache and body ache are other common manifestations of the illness.
What are the causes of gastroenteritis?
Research has shown that a virus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis. Some of the viruses that cause the ailment are:
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 ache, headache and low-grade fever (less than 101 F) with chills. Symptoms last for one or two days, and there are no long-term consequences.
Rotavirus 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?
Most cases of gastroenteritis don’t require particular treatment because symptoms subside within a few days. If the condition becomes severe, then you should visit a doctor who may prescribe medication.
There are some home-remedies you can follow to treat the condition as your body has the capability to fight off the disease. Drink plenty of fluids and electrolytes that have been lost due to the diarrhea and vomiting. Foods containing electrolytes and complex carbohydrates, like lean meats (chicken), potatoes and whole grains are recommended.
Elderly people having underlying health conditions should take oral re-hydration solutions (electrol powder) along with regular fluids. These solutions are available in sachets and can be purchased over-the-counter from a local pharmacist. Oral re-hydration solutions replace the salt, glucose and other important minerals lost due to dehydration.
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:
Antidiarrhoeal drugs Medication like Loperamide is sometimes prescribed to treat gastroenteritis. It slows down bowel movement by increasing water absorption from the gut. Please note, Loperamide is not prescribed to those suffering from ulcerative colitis or having diarrhea containing blood or mucus.
Antiemetic medications Drugs like Metoclopramide, which relax the muscles, are used to prevent or reduce vomiting.
Antibiotics Doctors usually avoid prescribing antibiotics to treat gastroenteritis symptoms because most cases are caused by viruses as opposed to bacteria. If specific bacteria are responsible or have been identified in a stool sample, then antibiotics are recommended.
In cases of hospitalization, nutrients can be replaced intravenously by injecting them directly into the veins.
Know more about: Gastroenteritis
Gastroenteritis, or inflammation of intestines or immune system, is a common condition. It can be prevented by practicing 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.