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First Aid Guide: Gastroenteritis

Team AckoJan 19, 2023

You may have ‘stomach flu’ when you suffer from vomiting and diarrhoea. The symptoms are generally due to Gastroenteritis, a condition in which the intestines (the gut) are inflamed and irritated generally because of a viral or bacterial infection. Read further to know about first aid for Gastroenteritis in detail.

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Contents

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What is Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu, is a common condition that affects the stomach and intestines (the gut). It is a highly infectious condition caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain.

It is not a severe condition, but it can cause dehydration. Mild cases can be managed by drinking a lot of fluids. However, young children, people with weak immunity, and older people are at higher risk of developing more serious illnesses. Viruses are the most common cause of Gastroenteritis or stomach flu. Viral stomach flu can spread easily to others. Hence it is essential to follow precautions to avoid contracting the infection.

Signs and symptoms of Gastroenteritis

If you are infected by a virus or bacteria causing Gastroenteritis, you may have the following:

  • Diarrhoea

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

  • Stomach pains

  • Nausea

  • Loss of appetite

  • Headaches 

These symptoms may last one to two days or persist for a week. Mild cases resolve on their own, while severe cases need proper medical attention. Symptoms can worsen in infants, young children, older adults, and people with weak immune systems. Diarrhoea and vomiting cause dehydration in a short period, depending on the severity of the infection. 

The symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Less urine output than usual

  • Excessive thirst

  • Darker coloured urine

  • Sunken eyes or cheeks

  • General weakness

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness on standing

If you notice any of the above symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.  

Causes of Gastroenteritis

You may get infected with viral Gastroenteritis if you drink or eat contaminated water or food. You may also get it if you share food, utensils, or towels with someone who has one of the viruses causing the condition.

Some shellfish, especially undercooked or raw oysters, can also make you ill. Many viruses can cause Gastroenteritis, but norovirus and rotavirus are the two viruses causing the majority of the cases. Not as common, bacteria such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli can also trigger this disease. 

  • Norovirus: It is the most common cause of foodborne disease and affects both children and adults. It commonly spreads among people in confined places because it is highly contagious. This virus is usually picked up from contaminated food and water. But it can also spread in people in close contact with an infected person. 

  • Rotavirus: It is the most common cause of viral Gastroenteritis in children worldwide. Children get infected by this virus when they put contaminated fingers or other objects into their mouths. Also, it can spread through contaminated food. The infection caused by this virus is most severe in infants and young children. Adults can get infected by rotavirus but do not show any symptoms; however, they can still spread the infection.

How to diagnose Gastroenteritis

The doctor will diagnose Gastroenteritis based on signs and symptoms, physical examination, and sometimes the presence of similar cases in your society. He may recommend a rapid stool test to detect the norovirus or rotavirus. But there is no such quick test for other viruses causing Gastroenteritis. Sometimes, the doctor may recommend taking stool samples to rule out any other possible parasitic or bacterial infection.

First aid for Gastroenteritis

The symptoms of Gastroenteritis usually last for a few days and do not require any treatment. Medications for diarrhoea or nausea can be helpful in adults but not safe for children. First aid should be given to people suffering from this condition to prevent its further spread. Some first-aid steps can be followed to manage this disease. These include:

  • Sip liquids: You should drink frequent sips of water.

  • Take note of urination: You should be urinating at regular intervals. Your urine should be clear and light in colour. Infrequent passage of dark urine, lightheadedness, and dizziness are signs of dehydration. 

  • Ease back into eating: Try to eat small amounts of solid foods frequently if you feel nauseous. Otherwise, slowly and gradually start to eat bland, easy-to-digest foods. Stop eating if nausea returns. You should avoid milk and dairy products, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and fatty foods.

  • Get plenty of rest: Rest is required as illness and dehydration can make you tired and weak.

  • Take anti-diarrhoea medications: Some people might find it helpful to take bismuth subsalicylate or loperamide to manage their symptoms. People with bloody diarrhoea or fever should avoid these medications. Always make sure to consult your physician before taking any medicine.

Seek medical help if:

  • Diarrhoea persists for several days

  • Vomiting persists for more than two days

  • Diarrhoea turns bloody

  • Fever is more than 39℃ or 102℉

  • Fainting occurs while standing

  • Severe abdominal pain develops

  • Confusion develops

Ways to prevent

Gastroenteritis can be prevented easily, and the best way to avoid it is to follow these precautions:

  • Prepare food safely. Wash fruits and vegetables properly before eating. 

  • Avoid sharing food, utensils, and towels if you are staying with an infected person.

  • Keep your distance or avoid close contact with infected people. 

  • Always disinfect hard surfaces such as faucets, counters, and doorknobs.

  • Avoid touching laundry without gloves that may be exposed to the virus.

  • Take appropriate precautions, such as drinking water from a sealed bottle and avoiding eating undercooked fish and meat while travelling to other places.

Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the digestive tract caused by viral or bacterial infection. The symptoms usually do not last for long and need no specific treatment. However, first aid for this condition can prevent the further spread of the infection as it is a highly contagious condition. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some of the frequently asked questions and their answers related to Gastroenteritis.

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What is the most common cause of Gastroenteritis?

Most cases of Gastroenteritis, especially in children, are caused by a virus known as rotavirus. In adults, it is caused by bacterial food poisoning, or norovirus also called the  ‘winter vomiting bug.’ People can get infected by eating or drinking contaminated food or beverages or touching contaminated surfaces. 

What is the fastest treatment option for Gastroenteritis?

If you are suffering from Gastroenteritis, drink plenty of water and fluids to avoid dehydration. You must drink more than usual to replace the lost fluids from diarrhoea and vomiting. Get enough rest, avoid eating solid foods for some time and take paracetamol in case of fever and body pains. The symptoms usually last for approximately a week and, with proper care, get resolved quickly.

What alleviates Gastroenteritis pain?

Pain reduces each time you pass some diarrhoea. Crampy pains in the stomach are common if you are suffering from Gastroenteritis. Fever, headache, and aching limbs can also occur sometimes. Medications such as acetaminophen and bismuth subsalicylate help to manage pain and diarrhoea.

References 

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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