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Gastroenteritis

An infection or irritation of the stomach and intestines, which may be caused by viruses or by bacteria or parasites from spoiled food or unclean water. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

About Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis is inflammation of the lining of the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Several different viruses can cause viral gastroenteritis, which is highly contagious and extremely common. Viral gastroenteritis causes millions of cases of diarrhea each year.

Anyone can get viral gastroenteritis and most people recover without any complications, unless they become dehydrated.

What are the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis?

The main symptoms of viral gastroenteritis are

Other symptoms include

Symptoms usually appear within 12 to 48 hours after exposure to a gastroenteritis-causing virus and last for 1 to 3 days. Some viruses cause symptoms that last longer...Read more about Viral Gastroenteritis NIH - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Children with dehydration due to gastroenteritis need to be rehydrated, and this review did not show any important differences between giving fluids orally or intravenously

Dehydration is when body water content is reduced causing dry skin, headaches, sunken eyes, dizziness, confusion, and sometimes death. Children with dehydration due to gastroenteritis need rehydrating either by liquids given by mouth or a tube through the nose, or intravenously. The review of 17 trials (some funded by drug companies) found that the trials were not of high quality; however the evidence suggested that there are no clinically important differences between giving fluids orally or intravenously. For every 25 children treated with fluids given orally, one child would fail and require intravenous rehydration. Further, the results for low osmolarity solutions, the currently recommended treatment by the World Health Organization, showed a lower failure rate for oral rehydration that was not significantly different from that of intravenous rehydration. Oral rehydration should be the first line of treatment in children with mild to moderate dehydration with intravenous therapy being used if the oral route fails. The evidence showed that there may be a higher risk of paralytic ileus with oral rehydration while intravenous therapy carries the risk of phlebitis (ie inflammation of the veins).

Diarrhoea and Vomiting Caused by Gastroenteritis: Diagnosis, Assessment and Management in Children Younger than 5 Years

When young children suddenly experience the onset of diarrhoea, with or without vomiting, infective gastroenteritis is by far the most common explanation. A range of enteric viruses, bacteria and protozoal pathogens may be responsible. Viral infections account for most cases in the developed world. Gastroenteritis is very common, with many infants and young children experiencing more than one episode in a year.

Anti‐sickness medication for vomiting in acute stomach upsets in children

Vomiting caused by acute gastroenteritis is very common in children and adolescents. Treatment of vomiting in children with acute gastroenteritis can be problematic and there is lack of agreement among clinicians on the indications for the use of antiemetics. There have also been concerns expressed about apparently unacceptable levels of side effects with some of the older generation of antiemetics. The small number of included trials provided evidence which appeared to favour the use of antiemetics over placebo to reduce the number of episodes of vomiting due to gastroenteritis in children. A single oral dose of ondansetron given to children with mild to moderate dehydration can control vomiting, avoid hospitalization and intravenous fluid administration which would otherwise be needed. There were no major side effects other than a few reports of increased frequency of diarrhea.

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Summaries for consumers

Children with dehydration due to gastroenteritis need to be rehydrated, and this review did not show any important differences between giving fluids orally or intravenously

Dehydration is when body water content is reduced causing dry skin, headaches, sunken eyes, dizziness, confusion, and sometimes death. Children with dehydration due to gastroenteritis need rehydrating either by liquids given by mouth or a tube through the nose, or intravenously. The review of 17 trials (some funded by drug companies) found that the trials were not of high quality; however the evidence suggested that there are no clinically important differences between giving fluids orally or intravenously. For every 25 children treated with fluids given orally, one child would fail and require intravenous rehydration. Further, the results for low osmolarity solutions, the currently recommended treatment by the World Health Organization, showed a lower failure rate for oral rehydration that was not significantly different from that of intravenous rehydration. Oral rehydration should be the first line of treatment in children with mild to moderate dehydration with intravenous therapy being used if the oral route fails. The evidence showed that there may be a higher risk of paralytic ileus with oral rehydration while intravenous therapy carries the risk of phlebitis (ie inflammation of the veins).

Anti‐sickness medication for vomiting in acute stomach upsets in children

Vomiting caused by acute gastroenteritis is very common in children and adolescents. Treatment of vomiting in children with acute gastroenteritis can be problematic and there is lack of agreement among clinicians on the indications for the use of antiemetics. There have also been concerns expressed about apparently unacceptable levels of side effects with some of the older generation of antiemetics. The small number of included trials provided evidence which appeared to favour the use of antiemetics over placebo to reduce the number of episodes of vomiting due to gastroenteritis in children. A single oral dose of ondansetron given to children with mild to moderate dehydration can control vomiting, avoid hospitalization and intravenous fluid administration which would otherwise be needed. There were no major side effects other than a few reports of increased frequency of diarrhea.

Antibiotics for non‐typhoidal Salmonella diarrhoea

Non‐typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) can cause diarrhoea in people. In this review, we investigated the benefits and safety of antibiotics for treatment of NTS versus placebo or no antibiotic treatment. We found that in otherwise healthy people, treatment with antibiotics did not have any benefit over treatment with no antibiotics. Furthermore, treatment with antibiotics made it more likely that patients would continue to excrete the same organisms for up to one month after treatment. We are unable to comment on the use of antibiotics in very young people, very old people and people who are unable to fight off infection because the trials we identified did not include these patients.

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More about Gastroenteritis

Photo of an adult

Also called: Gastro, GE

See Also: Diarrhea, Dysentery

Other terms to know:
Norovirus, Viruses

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