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Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis

Overview

Gastroenteritis is a condition in which a patient suffers from diarrhea and vomiting. It is often understood as stomach infection or stomach flu. It is usually of short duration of less than 4 weeks, hence also referred as Acute Gastroenteritis. It may be caused due to a bacterial, parasitic, toxins, drugs or viral infection. In this condition, the intestines get inflamed and irritable. Since it is an intestinal infection, it causes abdominal cramps, vomiting, nausea and watery diarrhea.

There are various symptoms of Gastroenteritis which make the patient uncomfortable and irritated. Usually the symptoms start to appear within the first day or by the third day itself. It can also turn from mild to severe, depending upon the case. Following are the most common symptoms that have been observed in the case of Gastroenteritis:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Cramping
  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Decreased urinary output

One should always look out for the symptoms of dehydration while suffering from diarrhea and vomiting as it decreases the level of water in the body. Immediate consultation should be taken from a doctor in case of dry skin, dry mouth, being thirsty or feeling lightheaded.

 

Gastroenteritis is commonly caused by a virus. Though there are various types of viruses that cause the same. There are two viruses predominantly responsible for causing the disease - rotavirus and norovirus. The common causes include:

  • Consumption of contaminated water or food
  • Coming in direct contact with somebody who is carrying the virus
  • Not cleaning hands before eating food or after using the washroom or changing the diaper

Apart from the above-mentioned causes, there are other factors that also lead to Gastroenteritis. These factors are not as common as others, but they are equally effective. They are:

  • Consuming heavy metals in drinking water
  • Consuming foods which are rich in citric acid
  • Eating sea food which contains certain toxins

In some cases, it has been observed that Gastroenteritis is caused by consuming sea food like shellfish, especially raw or undercooked oysters. Drinking contaminated water can also be a reason for Gastroenteritis.

 

To diagnose Gastroenteritis, the whole history of the symptoms and signs is taken into consideration. In most cases, lab tests are not conducted for the diagnosis of the disease. However, there are some conditions when the doctor would recommend a few tests viz. when the patient faces continuous temperature and blood in stool or if symptoms donot resolve with treatment.

During the diagnosis of Gastroenteritis, usually blood tests and stools tests are suitable. Very rarely X-rays, ultrasound and other options like CT scans may also be helpful.

 

Usually patients require only symptomatic treatment for management of Acute Gastroenteritis. Most common causes of acute gastroenteritis are viral causes hence no antibiotics needs to prescribe as no antibiotic is effective against diseases which are caused by viruses. However, if the cause is due to bacterial as evidenced by blood or stool tests, then appropriate antibiotics may be prescribed. Moreover, if the patient overuses the antibiotics, it might cause the growth of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

 

Some of the causes of gastroenteritis like Rota virus (important cause in children) and Typhoid (Salmonella typhi) can be prevented by vaccines. Rota virus vaccine available in India is a 3-dose oral vaccine to be given at 4weeks interval. Typhoid fever is also vaccine preventable disease. There are 2 types of typhoid vaccine, one is a injectable vaccine and the other is oral vaccine.

Gastroenteritis can be prevented by simple hygienic methods like washing of hands with soap before eating, and after using washroom facilities, washing of fruits and vegetables. Using hand wash sanitisers is also a good idea. The most common foods causing food contamination are dairy products, ice-creams and non-vegetarian food products. It is also a good idea to keep the nails short and use liquid soap for washing hands.

 

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