Stomach flu

Specialty of Gastroenterology

What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis, sometimes known as stomach flu, is an infection which affects the intestines, causing diarrhoea, dehydration, nausea, and vomiting.

What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?

The main symptoms of gastroenteritis is diarrhoea with vomiting, which in turn can cause you to become hydrated when not enough fluids are ingested to replace those lost through vomiting and diarrhoea. The next most common symptom is abdominal pain.

Sometimes, gastroenteritis can cause headache, fever, and cramps in your arms and legs.

These symptoms tend to last for a few days, and vomiting should not last longer than one day.

You should seek medical advice if you are unable to keep fluids down, if you notice blood in your diarrhoea or vomit, or if vomiting continues after more than a couple of days.

How is gastroenteritis diagnosed?

Most people who experience gastroenteritis or have children with the condition will not need to see a doctor because symptoms usually settle after a few days.

However, if you are concerned about persistent or severe symptoms, and you visit the doctor, they are likely to ask you whether you have recently travelled abroad or been admitted to hospital. They may check your temperate and heart rate and ask for a stool sample to determine the cause.

What causes gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is usually caused by a viral infection. It is spread through contaminated food or water, or contact with another infected person. In some cases, food poisoning can cause gastroenteritis.

Can gastroenteritis be prevented?

Gastroenteritis can be prevented through good hygiene habits such as:

  • washing hands before eating, after going to the bathroom or after changing a baby's nappy
  • regularly cleaning your bathroom toilet and sink

If you visit someone in hospital it’s important to use the anti-bacterial hand gel or foam provided to reduce your risk of catching infection from other patients.

Since the gastroenteritis can spread contaminated foods and drink, all foods, especially meat and fish, must be thoroughly cooked.

Finally, to reduce the chance of your child developing gastroenteritis it’s important to make sure they are vaccinated against rotavirus, which is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in children in the UK .

What is the treatment for gastroenteritis?

The majority of people recover without specific treatment. However, there are some things you can do to manage the symptoms:

  • eat milder-tasting foods to reduce your chances of further vomiting
  • stay hydrated by taking small sips of water when you can.
  • if you are severely dehydrated you can purchase rehydration tablets from your local pharmacy.
  • take Ibuprofen or Paracetamol to relieve symptoms of fever and headache
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