Gastro is also referred to as gastroenteritis or stomach flu. This condition is characterized by abdominal pain, vomiting, stomach cramps and watery diarrhoea. Gastro is caused due to the inflammation of the intestinal wall lining. Bacteria, virus or parasites, can cause gastro, but the common cause is a viral intrusion. Specific drugs and chemicals can also cause gastro.
The condition may fade away on its own. Severe gastroenteritis that involves dehydration may need medical intervention. You can prevent gastro with a simple precaution – wash hands with water and soap often. This precaution prevents the infection from spreading.
Gastro in Children
Gastro is common in children of all ages, including infants. Children become more susceptible to the condition during colder months.
In children, vomiting is often the first symptom. Diarrhoea follows next. While vomiting may subside within a day, it can take 7 to 10 days for children to regain their normal health.
When a child is infected, it is crucial to keep the child away from school, day-care, or other institutions he/ she may be attending, to prevent the spread of the infection. Knowing Childcare First Aid is important.
Dehydration needs to be addressed without delay. Rehydration liquids, which are specifically formulated to replenish lost fluids in the body, can be used.
Who are Most at Risk for Gastro?
- People with a compromised immunity
- People in nursing homes
- Children in day-care or attending a camp
- Students living in college accommodations
- Tourists visiting, or returning from, poorer nations
- Closely-spaced areas such as prisons facilitate the easy spread of the infection
Causes of Gastro Symptoms
Diarrhoea is a key gastro symptom. Diarrhoea occurs due to the activities of the virus (in case of a viral infection) in the GI or gastrointestinal tract. The infection also results in the destruction of beneficial cells in the gut called enterocytes. This cell destruction leads to malabsorption, which refers to the body’s difficulty to digest food or its inability to absorb nutrients from food.
The condition of loose stools or watery diarrhoea is a result of the virus disrupting the water reabsorption process in the body.
Diarrhoea is often accompanied by vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain or cramps. Sometimes, a fever may also occur.
If you are experiencing fever, then it is an indication that your body is fighting the infection. You may feel sweaty and experience chills. There might also be pain all over the body as well as a headache.
Some people may feel that their gastro symptoms have worsened during the night. This is because the immune system activity gets more active at night in these people. The immune system releases chemicals that fight the infection. This activity worsens the inflammation, which makes you feel the symptoms intensely. In reality, your body is fighting your fight against the infection.
How do People Across Ages Respond to Gastro?
Patients usually recover from gastro within a few days. But, babies, younger children, senior adults and people with an immune-compromised system can experience symptoms worse than others.
Dehydration, in particular, can occur quickly. Look out for the following warning signs of dehydration:
- Excessive thirst
- General weakness
- Feeling dizzy when trying to stand
- Reduced urination frequency and output (in babies, this is equivalent to no diaper change in 3 hours or more)
- Darker urine colour
- Cheeks and eyes that look sunken
Medical attention becomes essential for kids in the following cases:
- Your child is an infant
- The child suffers from other health problems
- Your child is refusing to take fluids, resulting in a decrease in essential fluid levels
- You do not see any decrease in symptoms such as vomiting and abdominal pain. Your child is not showing any signs of improvement
- The child’s vomit is green
- There is mucus or blood in your child’s stools
- Your child is experiencing a high fever
- The child has additional symptoms such as a headache and pain while urinating
Adults suffering from dehydration, blood-accompanied diarrhoea, excess pain, and worsening symptoms must seek medical intervention immediately.
Your doctor usually diagnoses gastro using your symptoms. But the doctor may want to examine other factors to eliminate possibilities of other medical conditions. Your doctor may use the following procedures to diagnose gastro:
- Study of symptoms
- Review of medical history
- Physical examination
- Stool tests to confirm the presence of virus, bacteria or parasites
- Blood tests
Gastro Treatment – What to Expect?
Diagnosis enables your doctor to assess the exact cause of gastro – a viral, bacterial or parasitic infection. Depending on the cause, treatment may vary.
You can expect your doctor to prescribe any, or a combination, of the following, depending on the cause:
- Intake of fluids, including oral rehydration drinks
- Antibiotic medication if gastro is due to bacteria
- Medication to get rid of parasites in cases where parasites are causing gastro
- Administration of intravenous fluids at hospital, in severe cases
Unless prescribed by your doctor, avoid taking medication for stopping vomiting and diarrhoea. Such medication may stop the symptoms but will result in the infection staying in your body.
Gastro Management and Prevention
If you have contracted gastro, then keep yourself hydrated with frequent intake of water in small quantities such as sips. Go for electrolyte drinks in case of dehydration. Take rest.
Choose fluid foods such as juice and broth to keep your stomach calm. These steps should help you manage gastro symptoms. Visit a doctor immediately if you do not find your condition improving.
You can prevent contracting, or spreading the disease with these steps:
- Make handwashing with soap water a habit before eating, handling food, after changing diapers, and after using the bathroom.
- Contaminated food and unclean kitchen surfaces can cause gastro. Keep your kitchen surfaces clean. Cleanse fruits and vegetables before use. Stay away from uncooked or undercooked meat. Choose dairy products that have been pasteurized as this process kills germs.
- Keep yourself away from others if you are suffering from gastro, to prevent the spread of germs. Clean surfaces, rooms and clothes that the sick person uses or comes in contact with to prevent disease spread.
Stay at home and resume your normal lifestyle after symptoms subside completely.
- Consume only bottled water when you are travelling, especially to countries with poor hygiene and sanitation standards. Avoid using ice in drinks at such locations.
Gastro subsides in less than 7 days usually. But remember that the gastro virus can remain in your stools for 2 weeks. Keep following handwashing hygiene after your bathroom use even if you feel you are better and your gastro symptoms have subsided.