Gastroenteritis, often referred to as food poisoning, is a condition in which the lining of the stomach or intestines get inflamed. Owing to a chemical or a bacterial toxin there is a strong irritation of the lining of the digestive tract, and this leads to diarrhoea or vomiting and thereby a major loss of fluids and electrolytes. For the duration that the condition lasts, there will be a slow-down in the absorption of nutrients in the food through the walls of the stomach. Children and elderly people are considered to be the most vulnerable to the condition.
Signs and symptoms
The condition is marked by vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. Dehydration sets in as soon as the condition worsens, especially if enough fluids are not consumed. In serious cases, hospitalisation and intravenous replacement of fluids and electrolytes may be required. Depending on what the root cause of the digestive-tract disease is, there are different typical symptoms, which mainly can be categorised as follows:
- Mild fever
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Painful cramps or bloating
- General weakness and fatigue
Causes and diagnosis of gastroenteritis
There are several factors that can cause gastroenteritis, which chiefly are viruses and bacteria in the food that is consumed. Viral gastroenteritis may also be caused by improper hand-washing habits or close contact with an infected person. The inability to digest the sugar lactose in milk can also lead to it. Living conditions, hygiene, frequent travelling and some cultural habits are important factors that can make a person susceptible to gastroenteritis.
After taking a detailed history concerning medical treatments, diet changes or food preparation habits, and places visited, a doctor will usually subject the patient to a physical examination to rule out the possibility of appendicitis, gallbladder disease, ulcerative colitis, or other conditions that affect the immune system. If fever, passing blood in stools, or diarrhoea and vomiting persist for more than two weeks, the doctor may recommend blood and stool tests to determine the cause of the symptoms. This may include a complete blood count (CBC), electrolyte tests, kidney function tests, an examination of stool for toxins, bacteria, or parasites.
Treatments for gastroenteritis
Since gastroenteritis tends to be a self-limiting, and is not a chronic or long-lasting condition, it usually does not require medical therapy and the body by itself is generally able to fight off the infection. Treatment is mainly focused on rehydrating – replacing fluids and electrolytes lost while passing stools or vomiting. Replenishing fluids is usually accomplished by oral rehydration therapy (ORT) or through intravenous insertion. For severe symptoms or a suspected bacterial cause of the gastroenteritis, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics, or other medication to stop diarrhoea and vomiting.