What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is an
upset stomach. It causes nausea and vomiting. You may also have diarrhea or a
fever. It is sometimes called "stomach flu," but it is not the flu. Germs like
viruses and bacteria can cause it.
You can catch it from someone
else who has it, or you can get it from food poisoning. Food poisoning can
happen if you eat foods that contain harmful germs. Germs can get into food
while the food is growing, during processing, or when it is prepared. You may
have become ill after eating meat or eggs that weren't cooked enough or by
eating other unsafe foods or drinking unsafe water.
probably begin to feel better in 1 or 2 days, but you might feel bad for a
week. In the meantime, get plenty of rest, and make sure you do not become
dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when your body loses too much fluid. This can
happen when you throw up a lot or have diarrhea.
What should you do at home?
- Drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other caffeine-free
clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver
disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase how
much fluid you drink.
- Drink fluids slowly, in frequent, small amounts. Drinking too
much too fast can cause vomiting.
- Electrolytes should also be replaced, especially if vomiting or
diarrhea lasts longer than 24 hours. Electrolytes are minerals in your blood
that keep many systems in your body working smoothly. If you have a long period
of vomiting and diarrhea, you can lose minerals. Sports drinks, which contain a
mix of salt, sugar, and minerals, may help replace electrolytes.
- When you feel like eating, start with mild foods, such as dry
toast, yogurt, applesauce, bananas, and rice. Avoid spicy, hot, or high-fat
foods, and do not drink alcohol or caffeine for a day or two. Do not drink milk
or eat ice cream or other dairy foods until you are feeling better.
When should you call a doctor?
You can usually
take care of gastroenteritis at home.
- But call 911 or other emergency services immediately if:
- You have signs of severe dehydration. These include little
or no urine; sunken eyes, no tears, and a dry mouth and tongue; fast breathing
and heartbeat; feeling very dizzy or lightheaded; and not feeling or acting
- You think you may have food poisoning from a canned food
and you have symptoms of botulism (blurred or double vision, trouble swallowing
or breathing, muscle weakness).
- Call your doctor immediately if:
- Severe diarrhea (large amounts of loose stool every 1 to 2
hours) lasts longer than 2 days in an adult.
- Vomiting lasts longer than 1 day in an adult.
- You are pregnant and believe that you have been exposed to
toxoplasmosis. For more information on toxoplasmosis,
see the topic
Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy.
- You have sudden, severe belly pain.
stools are black and tarry or they have streaks of blood.
- Talk to your doctor if:
- You have symptoms of mild dehydration (dry mouth, dark
urine, not much urine) that get worse even with home treatment.
- You have a fever that lasts more than 1 or 2 days.
- You are not feeling better after 1 week of home
How can you prevent gastroenteritis?
thing you can do to keep from catching
gastroenteritis from someone else is to make a habit
of washing your hands often. This is especially important after you use the
bathroom, after you change a baby's diaper, and before you eat or prepare
Don't share personal items like forks and spoons,
toothbrushes, and towels. Try not to be around others who have stomach flu.
Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes, and mouth.
prevent food poisoning by taking steps to make sure your food is not
- Wash cutting boards and countertops often with hot, soapy
water. Consider using disinfectant sprays or wipes on your counters.
- Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- Do not eat meats, dressings, salads, or other foods that have
been kept at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Use a thermometer to check your refrigerator. It should be
between 34°F (1.1°C) and
- Defrost meats in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the
- Cook meat until it is well done.
- Do not eat raw eggs or uncooked sauces made with raw eggs.
- Do not take chances. If food looks or tastes spoiled, throw it
- Be extra careful when you travel. In some countries, you may
not want to drink water from the tap (including ice cubes) or eat any raw
- Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling
Other Works Consulted
Goldberg MB (2006). Gastroenteritis section of Enteric infections due to Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia, Vibrio, and Helicobacter. In DC Dale, DD Federman, eds., ACP Medicine, section 7, chap. 9. New York: WebMD.
Gottlieb T, Heather CS (2011). Diarrhoea in adults (acute), search date January 2010. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.