Gastroenteritis, also referred to as the stomach flu and resulting in irritation and inflammation of the
stomach and intestines, is a common condition, affecting over 3 million people a year in the United
Transmission of gastroenteritis can occur in a number of ways, including through contaminated food or
water. Usually viral, gastroenteritis can also materialize as a bacterial, parasitic or fungal infection. The
rotavirus is the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis in children and the norovirus holds that
title for adults. Gastroenteritis can also be contracted by ingesting drinking water with high contents of
heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, lead and/or mercury. Heavy intake of acidic foods, such as
tomatoes and citrus fruits and juices can also aid in the transmission of gastroenteritis.
Other ways to contract gastroenteritis can include coming into direct contact with a person who is
infected with gastroenteritis; failing to wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing a diaper;
eating undercooked meat, poultry or eggs; exposure to toxins in certain seafood; and swallowing
contaminated swimming pool water. Long-term use of certain antacids, antibiotics and chemotherapy
can also alter the carefully balanced chemistry of the stomach and colon, resulting in symptoms of
gastroenteritis. Specific types of bacteria which can cause gastroenteritis are E. coli, found in ground
beef and raw vegetables like those in salads; salmonella and staphylococcus, both found in dairy, eggs
and meat; Yersinia, which can be found in pork; campylobacter, in meat and poultry; and shigella, found
Symptoms of gastroenteritis usually begin one to two days after transmission, but in certain
circumstances – as with a staphylococcal toxin – the body can start exhibiting signs of gastroenteritis as
soon as one hour after transmission. Symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, can typically last three to
ten days…or they can last longer if they remain untreated or in the case of an infection such as Listeria.
Gastroenteritis symptoms can include stomach pain and cramps, nausea and/or vomiting, watery
diarrhea, fatigue and weakness, fever and headache. Complications that can arise due to gastroenteritis
can include dehydration, swollen abdomen, bloody stool, severe abdominal pain and in the worst case
scenario, even death.
Those at greatest risk of suffering from severe gastroenteritis are people with weakened immune
systems and those who may need assistance replacing the fluids that they have lost through vomiting
and diarrhea on their own, such as children, infants, disabled people and the elderly.
If symptoms are severe or persistent, visiting a healthcare professional is advised. Typically, patients will
make an appointment with their primary care physician who may refer them to a gastroenterologist – a
specialist in the digestive system and disorders associated with it.
In an effort to diagnose your gastroenteritis, your doctor will delve into your travel history, recent diet
and medications. There will be a physical exam to check for abdominal tenderness. Your blood and stool
will be tested to evaluate your kidney function, electrolytes and to check for infection; and a rectal exam
with a gloved finger will be administered to check for abnormalities. Imaging may also come into play.
Although gastroenteritis transmitted via a virus cannot be cured with medication, there are treatments
for gastroenteritis contracted through a bacterial or fungal infection. Gastroenteritis treatments
provided by your doctor could include antibiotics, such as azithromycin or vancomycin. Ondansetron is
an antiemetic commonly used to treat nausea and vomiting; and loperamide is often used to treat the
diarrhea which can accompany gastroenteritis. The rotavirus vaccine is recommended for infants.
Mylanta and Maalox are over-the-counter medications most often used to neutralize stomach acid.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can lessen stomach cramping,
swelling and pain.
One of the best home remedies for some of the symptoms of gastroenteritis is carom seeds because
they are a natural antacid. Carom seeds protect the mucous membranes in your stomach, helping to
curb acidity which can lead to indigestion, nausea and more.
Proper nutrition can also play a role in managing the symptoms of gastroenteritis. Those suffering from
gastroenteritis should alter their diet to include soft grains such as breads, cereal and rice. Increase your
fluid and salt (Discuss salt with your doctor, especially if you suffer from high blood pressure.) intake in
an effort to help rebuild and maintain the fluids you have lost. To help decrease diarrhea, avoid diuretics
including caffeine, certain fruits and vegetables and foods that are high in fiber. Spicy and fried foods
should be eliminated from your diet when you are experiencing symptoms of gastroenteritis. Dairy
products and foods that are high in sugar should also be avoided to when you are attempting to
alleviate the symptoms of gastroenteritis with proper nutrition. You can resume your normal eating
habits once gastroenteritis symptoms have been completely alleviated.
Ways to prevent the contraction of gastroenteritis include hand washing after using the bathroom and
before preparing and eating meals; keeping your kitchen clean; vigilantly wash fruits and vegetables;
drinking and brushing your teeth with bottled water while traveling abroad; eating only properly cooked
foods; consuming and not overindulging in clean water and fluids; avoiding swallowing pool water;
getting plenty of rest; and vaccinating.
In an attempt to avoid the spread of gastroenteritis, avoid sharing personal items such as your
toothbrush, towel, eating utensils and drinking glasses and straws. Infected food handlers should not
return to work until they are fully recovered. Also, this may go without saying, but do not swim if you
are experiencing diarrhea or vomiting.
Riverside Clinical Research, conveniently located in Edgewater, conducts gastroenteritis clinical trials.
Feel free to visit our website or follow us on Facebook to learn more.