Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and intestines, often due to an infection. It causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Treatment typically focuses on managing symptoms.
Gastroenteritis, which people commonly call stomach flu, can affect both adults and children. It has many possible causes, such as viruses and bacteria.
This article discusses the symptoms and causes of gastroenteritis in more detail. It also looks at diagnosis, treatment options, when to contact a doctor, and more.
- loss of appetite
- abdominal pain
- watery diarrhea
- a general feeling of discomfort (malaise)
- muscle pain (myalgia)
Possible causes of gastroenteritis include:
A person typically contracts gastroenteritis after person-to-person contact or after consuming food or drink that carries a pathogen that can cause the condition.
Less commonly, gastroenteritis may occur after a person ingests medication or certain chemical toxins, such as plant substances or metals.
For generally healthy adults, gastroenteritis is typically not a serious condition. However, it can cause severe symptoms and dehydration.
It is important for a person who is at high risk of severe symptoms to contact a doctor for advice if they suspect gastroenteritis. High risk groups can include:
- pregnant people
- older adults
- people with compromised immune systems
- people with serious health conditions
- lack of energy
- irritability or other changes in mental state
- diarrhea for more than 2 days
- high fever
- frequent vomiting
- passage of six or more loose stools in a day
- severe pain in the rectum or abdomen
- black and tarry stool
- stool that contains pus or blood
To reach an accurate diagnosis, a doctor will usually begin by taking a full medical history, asking questions about symptoms, and performing a physical examination.
Medications that may help manage the symptoms include:
- antiemetic drugs for nausea and vomiting
- antibiotics in some cases of bacterial gastroenteritis
- antidiarrheal and antimotility medications for diarrhea
Home remedies such as the following may help people manage gastroenteritis symptoms:
- staying at home and getting plenty of rest
- staying hydrated
- consuming nutrient-rich foods in small amounts
- avoiding fatty, sugary, very high fiber, or spicy foods
- taking probiotic supplements
- avoiding use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen
Dehydration is a
- dry mouth
- extreme thirst
- dark-colored urine
- decreased skin turgor, which means the skin does not quickly return to its usual appearance after a person pinches and releases it
- sunken eyes or cheeks
- fainting or lightheadedness
Gastroenteritis may also have long-term effects. A
It is best for a person to contact a doctor if they have concerns about the possible complications of gastroenteritis.
Microorganisms that cause gastroenteritis spread through contact. The following steps may help people avoid these microorganisms:
- staying at home when unwell
- regularly washing hands
- disinfecting work surfaces
When traveling, it is best for a person to:
- drink bottled water and other beverages if possible
- consume local water only after boiling it for 3 minutes
- eat only well-cooked foods
- avoid raw foods and vegetables except for those covered in skin that needs peeling
- avoid street foods
Here are some frequently asked questions about gastroenteritis.
How do you get rid of gastroenteritis in adults?
What are the stages of gastroenteritis?
The stages of gastroenteritis may depend on the cause. In viral gastroenteritis, which most commonly results from norovirus, a person begins experiencing symptoms 12–48 hours after contact with the virus (this is the incubation period).
A person is likely to recover within 1–3 days. If symptoms last longer than this, it is best for a person to contact a doctor.
What can be mistaken for gastroenteritis?
Other conditions that can have similar symptoms to gastroenteritis
- irritable bowel syndrome
- acute appendicitis
- inflammatory bowel disease
- bowel obstruction
- viral upper respiratory illnesses such as the flu
- certain types of bacterial pneumonia
A doctor can order tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible causes.
Gastroenteritis can affect both children and adults. It may occur as a result of viruses, bacteria, parasites, or certain chemicals. Symptoms typically include diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Adults may be able to manage gastroenteritis at home by getting plenty of rest, drinking enough fluids, and avoiding certain types of food.
People who have a higher risk of complications or are experiencing severe or persistent symptoms should seek medical advice.