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  • Michael Sparks, MD

Gastroenteritis - When your tummy fights back

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Gastroenteritis is a common illness that affects the stomach and intestines. It is caused commonly by a virus, bacteria, or less commonly by a parasite. And it stinks; literally and figuratively!

Gastroenteritis is usually not serious and most people recover within a few days. However, it can be serious for young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. If you have gastroenteritis, it is important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. You should also avoid eating solid foods until your diarrhea and vomiting have stopped.

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis

The symptoms of gastroenteritis usually start within 12 to 72 hours after you are exposed to the virus, bacteria, or parasite that caused the infection. The most common symptoms are:

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Nausea

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Fever

  • Headache

In some cases, people with gastroenteritis may also have blood in their stool. This is usually a sign of a more serious infection and definitely a reason to reach out to your doctor.

Treatment of Gastroenteritis

Most cases of gastroenteritis are mild and go away on their own within a few days. There is no specific treatment for gastroenteritis, but there are things you can do to relieve your symptoms:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Remember to start slow and only drink as tolerated. Small sips of water or Pedialyte is best. Even for adults.

  • Avoid eating solid foods until your diarrhea and vomiting have stopped. Once you are able to start eating, start with the BRAT diet.

  • If you are vomiting, we may be able to provide a medication that can help.

  • If you have a fever, you may take an over-the-counter fever reducer.

If you have severe gastroenteritis and cannot keep any fluids down, you will sometimes need to be evaluated in the emergency room and given fluids by IV. Some less common causes of gastroenteritis will require antibiotics to treat.

Prevention of Gastroenteritis

There are several things you can do to prevent gastroenteritis:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Hand sanitizers may not do the job here depending on the type of bug causing problems

  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.

  • Cook food thoroughly.

  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.

  • Drink clean water.

Complications of Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is usually not serious, but it can sometimes lead to complications. These complications include:

  • Dehydration: This is the most common complication of gastroenteritis. Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluids than you take in. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, increased thirst, decreased urination, and dizziness.

  • Electrolyte imbalance: Electrolytes are minerals that are important for many bodily functions. When you have diarrhea and vomiting, you can lose electrolytes. Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance include muscle cramps, fatigue, and confusion.

  • Malnutrition: Gastroenteritis can cause you to lose your appetite. If you do not eat enough food, you can become malnourished. Symptoms of malnutrition include weight loss, fatigue, and weakness. The body can tolerate not eating for a few days but beyond this, malnutrition becomes a larger concern.

When to See a Doctor

The good news is that most cases of gastroenteritis can be self treated at home with rest and hydration. No one likes getting a GI bug and no one likes having to go out with one either. If you believe you are becoming dehydrated or having severe symptoms that you cannot manage at home, these are reasons to seek care.

Remember, at SparksMD Family Medicine, we make it easier for you. With your doctor just a text message away, you can get the advice you need without having to leave your house when feeling sick.

SparksMD Family Medicine is Sanford's Direct Primary Care Clinic, helping to restore the patient-physician relationship. We believe in price-transparent, affordable, concierge style primary care. For one low monthly membership, you get your doctor's cell phone number, less waiting, same day visits, and steep discounts on medications, labs, and imaging amongst other awesome benefits. Send Dr. Sparks an email directly for more information!


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