What is gastroenteritis
What actually happens?The infection whether viral or bacterial irritates the lining of the stomach and gut making the bowel muscles tighten, which in turn triggers vomiting and/or diarrhoea.
Depending on the type of bug involved and its severity, symptoms can occur from an hour to several days after getting infected.
If you become very weak, have trouble waking up, have sunken eyes, go very pale, stop passing water or get very dry skin and tongue, you may be dehydrated and need urgent attention.
How is it diagnosed?Most people with mild gastroenteritis recognise their symptoms and do not need any medical attention.
Tests are not usually needed although if diarrhoea persists for a number of days then a stool (faeces) sample may be tested to try to identify the cause of the infection.
Diagnosis is mostly by the symptoms alone however.
When should I seek medical advice?There are a number of situations where medical advice should be sought, usually if symptoms are not settling after 48 to 72 hours.
These include the following.
If you believe you are becoming dehydrated. If there is blood in the motions or vomit. If there is severe abdominal pain. If there is a persistently high temperature. If you are unable to keep any fluids down due to vomiting. If you have caught an infection abroad. If you are pregnant. If you have a weak immune system such as occurs with HIV or are on chronic steroid or chemotherapy treatment. If you are over the age of 65.
The main aim is to prevent dehydration from occurring or to treat it if it does.
As a rough guide try to drink around 250mls of fluid after each episode of diarrhoea, in addition to what you would normally drink.
If vomiting occurs, try to drink again but more slowly and 10 minutes after vomiting.
Try to drink water and avoid drinks with lots of sugar in them as this can sometimes make diarrhoea worse.
If required, rehydration drinks can be obtained from a pharmacist and these can be helpful in the elderly or those with chronic health problems.
Eat small, light meals but do not feel you have to eat if you do not feel hungry. Don’t stop drinking, and avoid spicy, fatty or heavy food.
Medication is not usually required but treatments such as loperamide available from a pharmacist can help reduce the frequency with which you go the toilet.
These should not be given to children under the age of 12, or for more than five days.
How can I prevent infection being spread to others?Always wash your hands before eating or preparing food and after going to the toilet, and don’t serve or prepare food for other people.
Don’t share flannels or towels, and stay off work until 48 hours after the diarrhoea and vomiting has stopped.
Wash all utensils, boards and surfaces used for meat and poultry with hot, soapy water and don’t let raw food come in contact with these surfaces.
If you are abroad, don’t eat raw food or food from street stalls and drink only bottled or boiled water or drinks.
Avoid putting ice in drinks and use water purification tablets if needed.
Other people also read:Salmonella and food poisoning: when is it necessary to contact a doctor?Diarrhoea: other causes.