Gastroenteritis: Digestive Disorder
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Advice About Gastroenteritis

The digestive disorder known as gastroenteritis is the inflamation of the lining of the stomach and intestines, usually caused by infection. Gastroenteritis is most common in babies and children, but can occur at any age. Risk factors include poor food hygiene and unsanitary conditions.

Gastroenteritis usually starts suddenly with symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Outbreaks of gastroenteritis commonly occur within families and among people who are in close contact, such as school children. Most people recover from the disorder without problems, but gastroenteritis may be serious in elderly people and young children, due to a risk of dehydration. In developing countries gastroenteritis is a common cause of death in these age groups.

What Are The Causes Of Gastroenteritis?

This intestinal condition is usually due to a viral or bacterial infection which inflames the lining of the stomach and intestines. The infection may be acquired from contaminated food or water, or it may be spread among people who are in close contact, particularly if personal hygiene is poor. Viral gastroenteritis is often caused by rotaviruses or astroviruses, especially in young children, and by the Norwalk virus in older children and adults. Most people acquire immunity to these viruses by the time they are adults. Bacterial causes of gastroenteritis include salmonella and E.scherichia Coli.

What Are The Symptoms Of Gastroenteritis?

The signs of gastroenteritis usually develop rapidly over 1-2 hours and may vary in severity. Symptoms include:

- Nausea and vomiting,
- Cramping abdomenal pain.
- Fever, often with headache.
- Diarrhea.

In some people, vomiting or diarrhea may lead to dehydration. Babies and elderly people are more vulnerable to the effects of dehydration, which are often difficult to recognize. Babies may become listless and cry feebly, while an elderly person may become confused. If you are not able to keep fluids down or have not passed urine for over six hours, especially if you have a longterm illness such as diabetes or kidney disease, see your doctor as soon as possible, since without appropriate treatment your dehydration may be life-threatening. Severe dehydration requires emergency treatment in hospital to replace fluids and salts intravenously.

Treatment Of Gastroenteritis

A mild attack of gastroenteritis usually disappears without treatment, but you should drink plenty of fluids every few hours to prevent dehydration. In addition, to reduce the risk of dehydration follow these simple measures:

How To Prevent Dehydration

  • Drink plenty of fluids every 1-2 hours while symptoms last. Choose fluids such as diluted orange juice, weak sweet tea, soda or rehydration solution availabe over the counter as a powder to be reconstituted.
  • Do not give children milk as it may prolong the diarrhea. However, if a breastfeeding baby is affected continue to breastfeed and give the baby additional fluids.
  • Avoid the sun and try to keep cool in order to prevent further loss of body fluids in sweat.
  • Over the counter anti-diarrhea drugs are useful if you need to relieve your symptoms quickly. But these treatments are best avoided because they may prolong gastroenteritis by retaining the infective organism inside the gastroentistinal tract.

If your symptoms are severe or prolonged, talk to your doctor. You may be asked to give a sample of feces which will be tested for infection. Antibiotics are not usually prescribed unless a bacterial infection is identified. Most people recover rapidly from gastroenteritis with no long-lasting effects. Occasionally, short term damage to the intestine may reduce it's ability to digest lactose, the natural sugar in milk. gastroenteritis occurs particularly in infants and often results in diarrhea that can persist for days or weeks. In rare cases, gastroenteritis may trigger irritable bowl syndrome.

NEXT: Guide To Food Poisoning.

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