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Gastroenteritis : Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Saturday, July 14th 2012. | Digestive System, Disease

Gastroenteritis Definition

Gastroenteritis is an acute inflammation of the lining of the stomach, colon and small intestine. This is one of the most common diseases among children and people traveling in the tropics.

Gastroenteritis  Causes

The acute gastroenteritis is usually caused by viruses or bacteria. Salmonella, Escherichia coli, enterococci, shigella, or campylobacter bacterial agents are responsible for the disease. In infants, the disease is usually triggered by rotavirus. Adenoviruses or enteroviruses may also be the cause of gastroenteritis.

Parasites such as amoebae or lamblia are rarely challenged.

The main symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea. In case of severe evolution, the diarrhea may even be bloody. Dehydration of the patient is the main risk.

Gastroenteritis Symptoms

  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhea, sometimes bloody mucus or, at least three times a day
  • Abdominal pain, loss of appetite
  • Dizziness, headache
  • Flu-like symptoms (fever, chills)

Signs of dehydration :

  • Urine scanty
  • Dry mucous membranes
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of skin elasticity (formation of a fold when raised keeps the skin between two fingers)


  • In infants, symptoms may be:
  • depressed fontanelle
  • Weak sucking reflex
  • Reduced blinking eyelids
  • Very low urine production

The significant loss of fluid may have adverse effects on the body. The risk of dehydration is especially prevalent in infants and the elderly. If it is very important, this dehydration can result in death.

Gastroenteritis (img :nytimes.com)

Gastroenteritis Examinations (diagnosis)

Children under one year should be monitored and treated by a doctor. Patients who vomit for several hours and who have fever should also be subject to medical treatment.

Diagnostic methods are:

  • History taking into account the patient’s symptoms
  • Eventually, stool examination to identify the pathogen
  • Blood tests and urine to determine the extent of dehydration

Gastroenteritis Treatment Options

  • Most gastroenteritis recover without medication. Generally, only symptoms are treated. The most important point is to replace the lost fluids.
  • Antidiarrheal drugs are only necessary after a few days and should not be taken without medical prescription. Drugs that thicken the stool are not recommended because the pathogen is then longer in the intestine.
  • Antibiotics are not effective for all pathogens.

General Measures

The essential point is to replace the lost fluids. To avoid dehydration, it is therefore necessary to drink 2-3 liters a day. Recommended drinks are water, tea, fruit juices highly diluted soup and boiled rice. Soft drinks should be avoided except cola that can be consumed moderately from time to time. Infants, the elderly or patients who fail to keep the liquid to be treated medically. In all these cases, hospitalization is necessary.

Antidiarrhoeal recipe for a drink (electrolyte replacement).

A drink containing electrolytes can quickly and easily remedy the loss of fluid and electrolytes:

  • 0.5 liters of boiled water
  • A half teaspoon of salt
  • 4 teaspoons of sugar or glucose
  • A hint of orange juice to taste

When the diarrhea stops, it is possible to adopt a light diet and gradually to resume normal eating habits :

  • Food easy to digest (crackers, soups), bananas and apricots are good sources of potassium.
  • Chips or crackers compensate for the loss of salts.

In general, you should avoid high fat meals, sweets and fruit juice undiluted. In infants, it is possible to dilute the milk with tea, first in the proportions 1:1 and later 2:1.

Gastroenteritis Possible Complications

Massive loss of fluid can cause apathy, to convulse and even comas. Some bacteria such as Salmonella can also cause blood poisoning, meningitis, or inflammation of the joints. In case of bacterial infections, concomitant hepatitis with jaundice is also possible.

Amoebae can attack the liver or other organs of the body. In younger patients, lesions of the intestinal mucosa can lead to lactose intolerance or milk protein.

Gastroenteritis Preventive Measures

  • Rule of thumb when traveling in hot countries: Cook it, peel it or leave it = cook it, peel it or leave it. In addition, one should be careful with salads, beverages, ice cubes and ice, just as with sandwiches containing salad or raw vegetables.
  • Boil water before drinking or drinking mineral water. This rule also applies to brushing teeth.
  • It is possible to be vaccinated against cholera and against typhoid fever.
  • Do not eat raw eggs or lightly cooked (especially in summer) or undercooked poultry or fruit salad or unwashed.
  • Certain intestinal diseases (eg. Caused by Salmonella) are highly contagious. Hygienic measures are very strict rigor in this case.
  • After using the toilet, it is imperative to wash hands.
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