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What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, is an infection of the stomach and intestines. It is caused by bacteria, parasites, or viruses.

What increases my risk for gastroenteritis?

  • Close contact with an infected person or animal
  • Food poisoning, such as from eggs, raw vegetables, shellfish, or meat that is not fully cooked
  • Drinking water that is not clean, such as when you camp or travel

What are the signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis?

  • Diarrhea or gas
  • Nausea, vomiting, or poor appetite
  • Abdominal cramps, pain, or gurgling
  • Fever
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Headaches or muscle aches with any of the above symptoms

How is gastroenteritis diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider will examine you. He will check for signs of dehydration. He will ask you how often you are vomiting or have diarrhea. You may also need a blood or bowel movement sample tested for the germ causing your gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis often clears up on its own. Medicines may be given to fight an infection caused by bacteria or a parasite. You may also need medicines to slow or stop your diarrhea or vomiting.

How can I manage my gastroenteritis?

  • Drink more liquids. It is important to prevent or treat dehydration. Even if you feel sick or have been vomiting, suck on ice chips or take small sips of clear liquids often. Slowly increase the amount of clear liquids you drink. If you become dehydrated, you may need IV liquids.
  • Drink an oral rehydration solution (ORS) as directed. An ORS contains water, salts, and sugar that are needed to replace lost body fluids. Ask what kind of ORS to use, how much to drink, and where to get it.
  • Eat bland foods. When you feel hungry, begin eating soft, bland foods. Examples are bananas, clear soup, potatoes, and applesauce. Do not have dairy products, alcohol, sugary drinks, or drinks with caffeine until you feel better.
  • Rest as much as possible. Slowly start to do more each day when you begin to feel better.

How can I prevent gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis can spread easily. Keep yourself, your family, and your surroundings clean to help prevent the spread of gastroenteritis:

  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child's diapers, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
  • Clean surfaces and do laundry often. Wash your clothes and towels separately from the rest of the laundry. Clean surfaces in your home with antibacterial cleaner or bleach.
  • Clean food thoroughly and cook safely. Wash raw vegetables before you cook. Cook meat, fish, and eggs fully. Do not use the same dishes for raw meat as you do for other foods. Refrigerate any leftover food immediately.
  • Be aware when you camp or travel. Drink only clean water. Do not drink from rivers or lakes unless you purify or boil the water first. When you travel, drink bottled water and do not add ice. Do not eat fruit that has not been peeled. Do not eat raw fish or meat that is not fully cooked.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You see blood in your diarrhea.
  • You cannot stop vomiting.
  • You have not urinated for 12 hours.
  • Your legs or arms are blue.
  • You have trouble breathing or a very fast pulse.
  • You feel like you are going to faint.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You continue to vomit or have diarrhea, even after treatment.
  • You see worms in your diarrhea.
  • Your mouth or eyes are dry. You are not urinating as much or as often.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.