Gastroenteritis (gas-tro-en-ter-I-tis) is a disease in which the lining of the stomach and intestines becomes inflamed, resulting in what is sometimes referred to as an upset stomach or "stomach flu."
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What Is Gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is a general term for inflammation * of the gastrointestinal (gas-tro-in-TES-ti-nal) tract, the part of the digestive system consisting of the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Loss of appetite, vomiting, cramps, nausea * , and diarrhea * are the most common symptoms of gastroenteritis. In the United States, gastroenteritis usually is a mild disease. In countries where water supplies are dirty, sewage treatment is poor, or medical facilities are scarce, it sometimes leads to death.
What Causes Gastroenteritis?
There are many different causes of gastroenteritis. Viral infections are the most common cause in the United States. Certain bacteria and parasites that can get into food or water supplies also can lead to the disease. In addition, gastroenteritis can result from food allergies or sensitivities, side effects of certain medications, and alcohol or toxic (poisonous) substances.
How Is Gastroenteritis Treated?
Mild gastroenteritis usually lasts just two or three days. Often, the only treatment needed is rest and drinking lots of clear fluids. However, gastroenteritis can be serious if vomiting and diarrhea cause dehydration (de-hy-DRAY-shun), a condition that results when a person loses fluid and body salts faster than they can be replaced by drinking. If a person becomes dehydrated, hospitalization may be needed to deliver intravenous (in-tra-VEE-nus) fluid replacement therapy. Intravenous (IV) therapy replaces lost fluid by dripping liquids and salts directly into the bloodstream through a small needle inserted into a vein.
How Can Gastroenteritis Be Prevented?
Washing the hands thoroughly after using the toilet, and before handling food, and before eating are important ways to prevent infectious gastroenteritis. Preparing and storing food properly also are important. For travelers who plan to visit developing countries, vaccines * are available against some of the diseases that cause gastroenteritis.
* Inflammation (in-fla-MAY-shun) is the body's reaction to irritation, infection, or injury that often involves swelling, pain, redness, and warmth.
* nausea (NAW-zha) refers to a feeling of being sick to one's stomach or needing to vomit.
* diarrhea (di-ah-RE-a) refers to frequent, watery stools (bowel movements).
* vaccines (vak-SEENZ) are preparations of a weakened or killed germ or of part of the germ's structure. A vaccine stimulates the immune system to fight the germ but does not cause severe infection.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1600 Clifton
Road, Atlanta, GA 30333. This U.S. government agency posts a fact sheet
about viral gastroenteritis at its website.