Monday, 11 April 2016

Stomach Flu or Gastroenteritis

Irritated and inflamed stomach and intestines are the main reasons for gastroenteritis or “stomach flu”. The “flu” is only a consequence of this disorder and hence a misnomer. The irritation and inflammation in the stomach and intestines are generally caused by either bacterial or a viral infection. 


The symptoms that herald the onset of this disorder are typically watery diarrhea and vomiting. Additionally the patient may experience a slight headache, cramps or pain in the stomach / intestine areas, nausea and fever. Excessive diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration. Symptoms that indicate that a person is dehydrated are:

  1. Dry skin
  2. Dry mouth
  3. Being really thirsty
  4. Light headedness

A person with all or any of these symptoms must seek medical attention, immediately or else dehydration can lead to fatal consequences.


A gastroenteritis disorder can spread through the following means:

  • Through food or water that is contaminated
  • Having contact with somebody who already has the virus infection
  • From unwashed hands after use of the washroom or after changing a diaper
Gastroenteritis can be caused by many different types of viruses of which, rotavirus and norovirus are the main strains.

Rotavirus is commonly the reason for diarrhea in children of all ages, whereas norovirus causes serious gastroenteritis issues and is a foodborne disease. The bacterial form of gastroenteritis is caused by E.coli and salmonella. Both salmonella and campylobacter bacteria are spread through undercooked poultry or eggs. Salmonella can be spread through pets and live poultry.

Escherichia Coli or E.coli are bacteria that live in the human and animal digestive system. E. coli bacteria are of many types and are mostly harmless. However, there are some strains that cause bloody diarrhea and in some virulent strains like O157:H7, can cause severe diarrhea or kidney failure, which can ultimately lead to death. Yet other strains of E.coli bacteria cause urinary tract infections or other types of infections. Shigella, is one more type of bacteria commonly found in child care centers and the source of infection is generally food and drinking water.

Giardia and cryptosporidium, parasitically conveyed infections occur through contaminated drinking water.

Gastroenteritis can also be caused by:
  • The presence of metals like, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, or lead in drinking water
  • Toxins that may be there in certain seafood
  • Eating acidic foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes in large volumes
  • Antacids, laxatives, antibiotics and chemotherapy medications

Treatment Options

There is no particular treatment for gastroenteritis caused by a viral infection, as antibiotics are not effective on viruses. Care must be taken not to overuse antibiotics as this can cause resistance to strains of bacteria. Treatment basically comprises of self-care measures such as:

  1. Intake of plenty of fluids to keep hydrated
  2. Once nausea subsides, normal diet can gradually be resumed. Begin with clear soups or broth, and build up to more solid foods
  3. Temporarily avoid milk and milk products, wheat and wheat products, as the digestive system may still be tender and needs time to recover
  4. Rest in bed
In case, you do need medication, consult the doctor for help.

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