Posted on: November 25, 2008 Posted by: Nicole Harding Comments: 0

Stomach and digestive problems are among the most common diseases a person can have. The reason for this is that eating is the most direct, natural way a foreign object can enter into your body. The invading organism do get digested by your stomach acids most of the time, but there are instances where they manage to get in and that’s when they start wreaking havoc to your system. When that happens, you get the usual stomach pains and vomiting, but some digestive diseases have more serious symptoms. Gastroenteritis, while not normally deadly, can be fatal, especially to children and the elderly.

A Stomach for Disease

Gastroenteritis is also called stomach flu, although it is inappropriate as it is not caused by the influenza virus. It is the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and it mainly involves the stomach and the small intestine. The disease is not readily fatal although because of inadequate treatment (especially in third-world and developing countries) kills five to eight million people every year. It is also the leading cause of death for infants and children under the age of five. Healthy adults usually recover from gastroenteritis without any complications. All in all, the severity of a gastroenteritis disease is dependent on the person’s immune system to resist the infection. For children and infants, it is usually not the disease itself that poses the danger but rather dehydration, which is also one of its symptoms.

The bulk of gastroenteritis cases are mainly due to viral infection, although bacteria and parasites can also be offending agents. These organisms are mainly contracted through the consumption of contaminated food or, in lesser cases, the sharing of utensils and other things with someone who is infected.

1) Viruses

At least fifty percent of gastroenteritis cases are caused by the noroviruses. They have many different strains, with several sharing similar symptoms. Both children and adults are affected by these kinds of viruses and they can be spread pretty easily, especially in confined spaces. Most of the cases of noroviruses are obtained via food sharing. You will likely feel the sickness within 18 to 72 hours although if you’re healthy enough, it usually goes away in a day or two. You will still become infectious for several days though, even after recovery.

Rotaviruses, on the other hand, is the most common cause of diarrhea among children and infants worldwide, leading to death. Most often, the reason is due to children putting their fingers or other contaminated objects in their mouths. Adults usually don’t exhibit any symptoms although they can still be carriers. Fortunately, modern medicine has developed a vaccine against this type of virus.

2) Bacteria

Bacteria commonly causes gastroenteritis by infecting the stomach walls and intestine. There are also some bacteria like the Staphylococcus aureus that create toxins that cause the infection. In this case, people usually say they have developed food poisoning. Other types of bacteria that can cause gastroenteritis are Salmonella, Shigella, and Clostridium difficile.


Despite its common name of stomach flu, gastroenteritis symptoms are nowhere near flu symptoms. Flu affects your respiratory system—your nose, lungs, and throat. Gastroenteritis messes with your stomach and intestines. As such, some of the symptoms you will feel are:

  • Non-bloody diarrhea. If you have bloody diarrhea, that usually is a sign of a more severe infection.
  • Abdominal pain, usually accompanied by cramping.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Low fever.

Getting Rid of Gastroenteritis

In treating gastroenteritis, the objective is to replenish electrolytes and fluid lost through dehydration. Dehydration is the biggest danger, especially to children and infants. In order to make your gastroenteritis infection as manageable as possible, here are some tips you can follow:

  1. Drink lots of fluid. You need to replace all those fluid you lost. Lots of clear fluid is essential while you’re suffering from the infection. Clear fluid includes sodas such as Sprite or 7-Up. Noncaffeinated sports drinks such as Gatorade is also good. Don’t overwhelm yourself with fluids though. Doing so will distend the stomach, worsening the condition.For children, oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte and Resol are recommended.
  2. Gradually ease back to eating. Diarrhea can cause you to easily lose what you ate. If after 24 hours you still haven’t had any vomiting, start going into bland, easily-digestible foods such as bananas, toast, and soda crackers. If your nausea and vomiting returns, stop eating and go back to liquid diet.
  3. Avoid foods that may worsen your condition. Avoid certain foods such as spicy foods, dairy products, alcohol, and those that are full of fats. These foods are not easily digestible and may cause more work for your healing stomach and intestines.
  4. Be careful in using medicines. Use medicines sparingly. Whatever you do, though, don’t give your children aspirin as this may cause a potentially fatal disease called Reye’s syndrome. Don’t use any anti-diarrheal medicine unless it is specified by the doctor. In fact, consult the doctor before taking any medicine at all.

It is still best to prevent yourself from getting gastroenteritis instead of treating it, however. Here are some tips in order to do so:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly. Make sure you make it a habit to wash your hands properly before eating, especially after having gone from the bathroom. Make sure to use soap and running water.
  2. Cook food properly. Uncooked or improperly handled foods are the primary carriers of viruses and bacteria. If you think the food is already spoiled, don’t the chances and just dump them right away.
  3. Drink mineral or bottled water. As much as possible avoid drinking tap water, especially if you’re traveling in foreign, developing countries. Much of the organisms in untreated water can give you digestive problems.

In most cases, practicing good personal hygiene as well as a healthy lifestyle should be enough to keep you out of danger from gastroenteritis. Don’t take risks and be careful what you put in your mouth. Gastroenteritis is not life-threatening but as with most common diseases, it can be if you underestimate it.

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