Frequently Asked Questions


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What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, is an infection of the stomach and intestines. It is caused by bacteria, parasites, or viruses.

What increases my risk for gastroenteritis?

  • Close contact with an infected person or animal: This includes drinking from the same glass or sharing clothes or linens. Parents may get gastroenteritis from their children. Nursing homes, cruise ships, and public swimming pools are common places for the spread of gastroenteritis. You also may get gastroenteritis from handling animals.

  • Food poisoning: Food can be infected when it is picked, processed, or not fully cooked. Eggs, raw vegetables, shellfish, or meat that is not fully cooked are examples of commonly infected foods.

  • Drinking water that is not clean: This may occur when you camp or travel.

What are the signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis?

  • Diarrhea or gas

  • Nausea, vomiting, or poor appetite

  • Abdominal cramps, pain, or gurgling

  • Fever

  • Tiredness or weakness

  • Headaches or muscle aches with any of the above symptoms

How is gastroenteritis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you. He will check for signs of dehydration. He will ask you how often you are vomiting or have diarrhea. You may also need the following:

  • Blood or bowel movement tests: A sample of your blood or bowel movement is sent to a lab for tests. This may show what germ is causing your gastroenteritis.

How is gastroenteritis treated?

Gastroenteritis often clears up on its own. You may need the following medicines to treat your symptoms:

  • Diarrhea medicine: This can help slow or stop your diarrhea.

  • Vomiting medicine: This can help settle your stomach and stop vomiting.

  • Antibiotics: These help fight infection caused by bacteria.

  • Parasite medicine: This helps fight infection caused by parasites.

How can I manage my gastroenteritis?

  • Drink liquids: It is important to prevent or treat dehydration. Even if you feel sick or have been vomiting, suck on ice chips or take small sips of clear liquids often. Slowly increase the amount of clear liquids you drink. If you become dehydrated, you may need IV liquids.

  • Drink oral rehydration solution: You may also need to drink an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS contains water, salts, and sugar that are needed to replace lost body fluids. Ask what kind of ORS to use, how much to drink, and where to get it.

  • Eat bland foods: When you feel hungry, begin eating soft, bland foods. Examples are bananas, clear soup, potatoes, and applesauce. Do not have dairy products, alcohol, sugary drinks, or drinks with caffeine until you feel better.

  • Rest as much as possible: Slowly start to do more each day when you begin to feel better.

How can I prevent gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis can spread easily. Keep yourself, your family, and your surroundings clean to help prevent the spread of gastroenteritis:

  • Wash hands, laundry, and surfaces: This will help prevent the spread of germs. Encourage everyone in your house to wash their hands with soap and water after they use the bathroom. Wash clothes and towels you use while you are ill separately from the rest of your laundry. Clean surfaces in your home with antibacterial cleaner or bleach.

  • Cook safely: Wash your hands and raw vegetables before you cook. Have your household members wash their hands before they eat. Cook meat, fish, and eggs fully. Do not use the same dishes for raw meat as you do for other foods. Refrigerate any leftover food immediately.

  • Be aware when you camp or travel: Drink only clean water. Do not drink from rivers or lakes unless you purify or boil the water first. When you travel, drink bottled water and avoid ice. Do not eat fruit that has not been peeled. Avoid raw fish or meat that is not fully cooked.

What are the risks of gastroenteritis?

Diarrhea, vomiting, or fever can cause dehydration. Dehydration can be life-threatening for people with health problems and older adults. Without treatment, the infection can spread to your other organs, such as your kidneys.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.

  • You continue to vomit or have diarrhea, even after treatment.

  • You see worms in your diarrhea.

  • Your mouth or eyes are dry. You are not urinating as much or as often.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You see blood in your diarrhea.

  • You cannot stop vomiting.

  • You have not urinated for 12 hours.

  • Your legs or arms are blue.

  • You have trouble breathing or a very fast pulse.

  • You feel like you are going to faint.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

Learn more about Gastroenteritis