What is Gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the intestines caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites. These germs are usually carried in the contaminated food, water or beverages, which may affect an individual or a group of people when consumed. Generally, gastroenteritis resolves with good home care till one feels better.
What We Don’t Know
Most frequently, dehydration occurs with gastroenteritis. Babies, young children, elderly and people with weak immune systems are more prone to dehydration. This most likely occurs when one fails to replace fluid loss due to diarrhea and vomiting. If left untreated, dehydration may lead to serious health problems such as organ damage, shock, coma, or even death.
Bacterial gastroenteritis is caused by eating food or drinking beverages infected with bacteria (such as Salmonella or Escherichia coli), which may also be called food poisoning. Viral gastroenteritis is caused most often by a Norovirus infection. These germs may get into your body in many ways:
- Use of infected utensils
- Close contact with an infected person
- Consumption of contaminated food or water in any of the following ways:
- Improperly washed raw fruits or vegetables
- Frozen or refrigerated food items that are not stored at the proper temperature,
- especially fruit juices and dairy products
- Under-cooked meat or eggs
- Water from a well or stream, or untreated water
Symptoms of bacterial gastroenteritis often depend on the type of bacteria that caused the sickness. In case of viral gastroenteritis, symptoms are usually seen within 4 hours to 2 days of contact with the virus. Common symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody stools
- Loss of appetite
One may experience symptoms such as:
- Chills, clammy skin, or sweating
- Muscle pain or joint stiffness
- Weight loss
Most people recover with no treatment within a few days. The goal of the treatment is to ensure that electrolytes and fluids (salt and minerals) lost through vomiting or diarrhea must be replaced by intake of extra liquids. One should drink enough fluids between meals, despite being able to eat otherwise.
Keep Stomach Woes at Bay
Here are some foods and beverages that may help resolve your stomach problems and prevent further complications. Adhering to the following advice may also help you bounce back faster from illness:
- Drink plenty of clear liquids and electrolyte beverages such as water, clear fruit juices, coconut water, oral rehydration solutions and sports drinks etc. These drinks help replenish fluids and electrolytes in the body.
- You should drink small amount of fluids slowly and frequently to avoid nausea due to drinking too much or too fast.
- In case an infant is suffering from gastroenteritis, mother can continue breastfeeding her baby.
- Avoid fruit juices with loads of sugar, fruit drinks, caffeinated drinks, carbonated drinks, etc.
- Sports beverages should not be used for young children.
- You may not switch to a soy formula while feeding an infant.
- Binge on properly washed fresh fruits and freshly prepared salads and prefer eating well cooked vegetables.
- Include foods like rice, pasta and bread in your diet to help you replenish lost nutrients.
- Consume bland food that comprises soft, non-spicy and low fiber containing foods that are easy to digest.
- You can have plain curd or yogurt in your diet in small quantity.
- Avoid consuming solid foods
- Prefer staying away from canned and street food
- Say no to fried foods or fatty food (potato chips, french fries, pastries, sherbet, ice cream, popsicles and jellies)
- Take a break from very spicy food, dried fruits, sweet cereals, etc.
Seek Care Right Away
- Anyone with signs or symptoms of severe dehydration (vomiting or diarrhea) should immediately see a doctor.
- Immediately talk to your doctor immediately, if your baby has vomiting or diarrhea.
- Consult your doctor if diarrhea worsens or does not improve within two days in case of an infant or child, or within five days for an adult.
- Seek medical care in case a child (older than three months) has vomiting for more than 12 hours.
Prevent the Spread
- The best prevention is to frequently wash hands with soap and water before preparing or eating food.
- One should ensure proper hygiene in the kitchen by properly washing utensils and cutting board.
- Proper placement of raw foods (raw meat, poultry) and ready to eat food items should be maintained to avoid cross-contamination.
- Make sure that you cook food properly, especially fish and meats which should be cooked at 145-165͒ F. Before storing food, reheat rapidly until all of the food reaches 75͒ C.
- Discard food if there is uncertainty in its quality or safety.
- How long does it take for gastroenteritis to clear up?
Gastroenteritis usually clears up by itself within a week.
- Is there any vaccination for Gastroenteritis in children?
The most common cause of Gastroenteritis in children is rotavirus. There are vaccines available that can be given to infants to prevent viral gastroenteritis. Ask your doctor about the vaccines.