Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach as well as the small and large intestines. Tt is usually caused by microorganisms from infected food or water, but it can also be caused by ingesting certain drugs or toxins. It usually results in nausea and or vomiting; and/or diarrhoea. There is often associated fever, malaise and stomach cramps.
In the majority of cases it is self limiting and adults recover within 24 hours. Management is aimed at maintaining hydration and easing symptoms. Drinking rehydrate or dilute Energade is a helpful as its absorbed better than plain water and is needed to maintain electrolyte balance. Small frequent sips is best as large amounts can cause nausea/vomiting/diarrhoea, eg a teaspoon every 5 minutes.
Don’t worry if you are not eating food, as long as you are managing your fluid hydration your appetite and food intake will return. Once you are able to tolerate food start with simple bland food and avoid rich milky products.
Simple over counter medicine may be helpful in relieving symptoms, such as Immodium, Pectrolyte or Smecta which help ease the diarrhoea. Valoid is good for nausea and vomiting and comes in tablet, syrup and suppository form in case of vomiting.
Probiotics taken for a few days afterwards are also advisable to help re establish the natural biome of the gastric system.
As previously mentioned most cases will settle with time and rest and these simple measures, but its important to know when to seek help.
These are times when you need to see you GP:
- If you have blood in your diarrhoea or vomit.
- If you suspect that you are becoming dehydrated, ie very little to no urine output, feeling lightheaded or dizzy.
- If you are vomiting a lot and unable to keep fluids down at all.
- If you have severe tummy (abdominal) pain.
- If you have severe symptoms, or if you feel that your condition is getting worse.
- If you have a persisting high temperature (fever).
- If your symptoms are not settling – for example, vomiting for more than 1 day, or if you have diarrhoea that continues for more than several days, you may need to see your doctor to send a sample of the diarrhoea to check for certain bacteria or infections.
- If you’ve been on recent overseas travel
- If close contacts have been diagnosed with a more severe cause of gastro (e.g salmonella, campylobacter or shigella) and you then develop symptoms
- If you are elderly or have an underlying health problem such as diabetes, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease or kidney disease.
- If you have a weakened immune system because of chemotherapy, long-term steroid treatment, HIV infection etc.
- If you are pregnant.
Contributor: Dr Susan Ford – Medical Doctor at FEMINA HEALTH