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Gastroenteritis

By Apollo 24|7, Published on- 01 December 2022 & Updated on -

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  • Symptoms: Stomach cramps or abdominal pain, fever, diarrhoea, indigestion, vomiting, nausea, dehydration, muscle ache, dizziness
  • Causes: Bad hygiene, contaminated food and water, sharing food or utensils with someone who has the virus, raw and undercooked food
  • Risk Factors: Individuals who easily get affected by viral infections, those who do not wash hands properly before eating, individuals with weak immune system
  • Severity: Mild to severe
  • Which doctor to consult: Gastroenterologist

Overview:

Gastroenteritis, also called ‘stomach flu’ or ‘stomach bug,’ is a condition in which the intestines are inflamed or irritated. Although it is more common among children, individuals of all ages are equally affected by this condition.

It is usually caused by a viral infection that interferes with the digestive system. Although individuals complain of stomach pain, the small intestines and the colon are also affected by the disease.

When this condition occurs in children, it is usually because of a virus called rotavirus, and adults are affected by norovirus.

Gastroenteritis does not last long, but it can spread to others quickly. The illness is acute, and it can occur suddenly. Individuals affected by the disease can rest at home for a few weeks until they recover. Severe cases usually last for a week. However, it can be very unpleasant as individuals throw up frequently and suffer from diarrhoea.

Individuals can get better without medication by following simple home remedies. However, they may have to be hospitalised if the illness becomes severe. Severe symptoms may lead to extreme dehydration.

The best defence against gastroenteritis is frequent hand washing, maintaining hygiene, and keeping kitchen tops, washrooms, and toilet seats clean.

When to Consult a Doctor?

Gastroenteritis is not a severe condition, but it is recommended to get in touch with a doctor at the earliest in case the symptoms do not disappear after a day or two of following treatment at home.

The common symptoms to look out for include the following:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Dehydration
  • Low fever
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dry skin and mouth
  • Light-headedness
  • Increased thirst
  • Body cramp

Kids and infants may show fewer signs of the disease. They will require the immediate attention of the doctor. It is advised to seek the help of a healthcare provider to avoid any serious problems.

Diagnosis:

The doctor diagnoses gastroenteritis based on symptoms. An individual’s symptoms, food habits, recent dietary changes, and other factors will be considered before conducting a physical exam. Sometimes, similar cases of infections may become common in the neighbourhood, and the doctor administers medicine without any lab tests.

Lab tests are only required to diagnose the disease in case of severe symptoms or when the patient shows multiple signs.

Lab Tests:

  • Stool Test: A stool sample test may be suggested by the doctor to identify bacteria or viruses. The test confirms whether it’s a bacterial infection.
  • Blood Test: Additional blood tests may be prescribed by the doctor to understand the severity of the condition.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: This diagnostic procedure allows the doctor to examine the lower large intestine for signs of infection. The doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube attached to a camera through the anus.

Treatment:

Home Care:

The first step of the treatment of gastroenteritis is home care. The basic steps doctors recommend are getting enough rest, eating light meals, and drinking plenty of fluids.

Some common home treatments advised for patients of gastroenteritis include:

  • Drinking diluted apple cider vinegar daily
  • Eating probiotic yoghurt to reduce inflammation
  • Having ginger tea
  • Drinking turmeric milk
  • Eating green or unripe bananas

Medication:

Common antibiotics like co-trimoxazole and metronidazole are commonly administered orally. These are used to treat the gut and remove bacteria. Over-the-counter medicines may also treat diarrhoea, vomiting, and fever.

A doctor usually prescribes the medicine for over a week or month. This manages the symptoms of the disease and prevents it from progressing further.

Besides medicine, patients must take plenty of external fluids to manage the condition and prevent dehydration.

Surgical Treatment:

Surgery is rare in gastroenteritis cases. It is usually treated with medicine and home remedies. However, the doctor may suggest laparoscopic surgery, a minimally invasive procedure to cure the disease. In this surgery, a doctor makes a small incision in the abdomen to enter the laparoscope, and the patient can return home the next day.

There is also traditional surgery on different organs like the small or large intestine, rectum, oesophagus, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. These surgeries involve a large incision in the abdomen and are considered as major surgeries.

Gastrointestinal cancer, appendicitis, gallbladder, colon cancer, hernia, and rectal prolapse are common conditions treated by surgery.

Alternative Management:

Ayurveda is a complementary treatment method that aims to manage the symptoms of gastroenteritis.
Different methods like panchakarma, vasti, and similar procedures are administered by ayurvedic doctors to manage gastroenteritis. They also use various herbs like mulethi, asafetida, guduchi, bilva, and others to make paste and tea.

Ayurveda is known to improve digestion, get rid of toxins from the body, and promote intestinal health.

Risks & Complications if Left Untreated

The symptoms of gastroenteritis usually disappear within a few days after sufficient rest, eating light meals, and staying hydrated. The doctor prescribes medicines in some cases.

  • Dehydration: If the disease is left untreated, it can show severe complications. The complications of vomiting and diarrhoea go away within a few days. But the body loses fluids during this time. This causes dehydration and may require hospitalisation for fluids to be induced in the body intravenously.Dehydration can lead to further problems like heatstroke, urinary tract infections (UTIs), kidney stones, and kidney failure. One can also develop seizures. These issues can be life-threatening and can affect a healthy individual as well.
  • Stomach Issues: Individuals affected with gastroenteritis can experience long-term stomach problems even after the symptoms are gone. The immune system may be weakened, and individuals can get infected easily. They may also have issues with digestion.One of the most common problems is post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptoms like diarrhoea, nausea, pain in the abdomen, or constipation become common. These symptoms may last for several months or years.

Additional Information

Gastroenteritis is caused by several factors, which include:

  • Viruses, parasites, and bacteria: Norovirus, rotavirus, calicivirus, astrovirus, and adenovirus are common viruses that cause the disease. Campylobacter bacterium, Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium are the bacteria and parasites responsible for spreading gastroenteritis.
  • Medicines: Certain medications, particularly antibiotics, can cause diarrhoea and vomiting and show mild symptoms of gastroenteritis.
  • Chemicals: Chemicals, for example, arsenic or lead poisoning, can trigger gastroenteritis.

Infectious gastroenteritis is caused by food and water contaminated by parasites, bacteria, or viruses.

The following steps are recommended to prevent the food from getting contaminated:

  • Clean kitchen tops, surfaces, and utensils with disinfectant
  • Keep raw food separated from cooked foods
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked food
  • Wash meat and poultry items well before cooking
  • Drink bottled water while travelling
  • Avoid cooking for others if you are sick to prevent the spread of the virus

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Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, the disease can be prevented. Individuals can reduce the chances of getting gastroenteritis by frequent hand washing, disinfecting areas and things around them, avoiding unhygienic food and drink, washing dirty clothing and following basic hygiene practices. Family with children should take extra measures to keep their surroundings clean. Children should be immediately put out of soiled clothes after they return from the playground. Since they have a habit of putting their hands and toys in their mouth, making sure everything is sanitised frequently, is important.

Infectious gastroenteritis spreads when an individual affected by the virus share utensils or food with another individual. While coming in direct contact is common, gastroenteritis also spreads when affected individuals touch the elevator button, handrails, door knobs, or other everyday items in public places. This is why the only way to prevent the spread of the disease is to handwash and not share utensils with anybody.

The symptoms of gastroenteritis may appear within a day or two after coming in contact with the virus. They may range from mild to severe and can last up to a week in extreme cases. In mild cases of infection, the symptoms do not appear until the third day and will be gone within two days.