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Gastroenteritis - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What is Gastroenteritis?

Also called intestinal flu, traveler's diarrhea, viral enteritis, and food poisoning, gastroenteritis is a self-limiting disorder characterized by diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping. It occurs in all age-groups and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in developing countries.

In the United States, gastroenteritis ranks second to the common cold as a cause of lost work time and fifth as the cause of death among young children. It also can be life-threatening in elderly and debilitated people.

What are the Causes of Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis has many possible causes. Some of them are listed below:

  • Bacteria (responsible for acute food poisoning): Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, Shigella, Clostridium botulinum, Escherichia coli, Clostridium peifringens.
  • Amoebae: especially Entamoeba histolytica.
  • Parasites: Ascaris, Enterobius, Trichinella spiralis.
  • Viruses (may be responsible for traveler's diarrhea): adenovirus, echovirus, or coxsackievirus.
  • Ingestion of toxins: plants or toadstools (mushrooms).
  • Drug reactions: antibiotics.
  • Enzyme deficiencies.
  • Food allergens.
  • The bowel reacts to any of these enterotoxins with hypermotility, producing severe diarrhea and secondary depletion of intracellular fluid.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Gastroenteritis?

Clinical manifestations vary, depending on the pathogen and the level of GI tract involved. Gastroenteritis in adults is usually a self-limiting, nonfatal disease that produces diarrhea, abdominal discomfort (ranging from cramping to pain), nausea,and vomiting. Other possible symptoms include fever, malaise, and borborygmi.

In children and elderly and debilitated people, gastroenteritis produces the same symptoms, but the inability of these patients to tolerate electrolyte and fluid losses leads to a higher mortality.

Diagnosis for Gastroenteritis

Patient history can aid diagnosis of gastroenteritis. A stool culture as well as stool examination for ova and parasites should be obtained. Blood cultures are indicated in febrile patients.

Treatment for Gastroenteritis

Usually supportive, treatment consists of nutritional support and increased fluid intake. An episode of acute gastroenteritis is self-limiting. When an episode is severe and produces symptoms for more than 3 or 4 days and the patient is a young child or an elderly or debilitated person, hospitalization may be necessary. Treatment may include fluid and electrolyte replacement, antibiotic therapy, and antiemetics.

Special Considerations and Prevention Tips for Gastroenteritis

Below are some tips which will help you to control the disease and prevent it from getting serious.

  • Medications - Administer medications such as correlate dosages, routes, and times appropriately with the patient's meals and activities; for example, give antiemetics 30 to 60 minutes before meals.
  • If the patient is unable to tolerate food, replace lost fluids and electrolytes with clear liquids and sports-type drinks. Vary the diet to make it more enjoyable, and allow some choice of foods. Instruct the patient to avoid milk and milk products, which may exacerbate the condition.
  • Record intake and output carefully. Watch for signs of dehydration, such as dry skin and mucous membranes, fever, and sunken eyes.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after giving care to avoid spreading infection.
  • Instruct the patient to take warm sitz baths three times a day to relieve anal irritation.
  • If food poisoning is probable, contact public health authorities to interview patients and food handlers, and take samples of the suspected contaminated food.
  • Teach good hygiene to prevent recurrence. Instruct patients to thoroughly
  • Always wash hands with warm water and soap before handling food, especially after using the bathroom.
  • Additionally, teach patients to clean utensils thoroughly, to avoid drinking water or eating raw fruit or vegetables when visiting a foreign country, and to eliminate flies and roaches in the home.

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