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Stomach flu (gastroeneritis) is a condition characterized by inflammation of the digestive system, including the stomach and small intestine.

There are different terms for Gastroenteritis. Stomach flu, influenza, a stomach virus, a stomach bug, gastro, and others all refer to the same medical condition. It can be caused by bacteria, a virus, parasites, and certain toxins.

What are the signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis?

Stomach flu or gastroenteritis typically presents with vomiting and diarrhea. Patients may also experience bloody stools along with abdominal cramping. Some other signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis include:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Bloating

The signs and symptoms do not tend to appear as soon as the causative agents enter the body. Rather, it usually takes 12 to 72 hours for symptoms to appear.

Before the typical symptoms of gastroenteritis appear, the patient experiences symptoms like:

  • Anorexia (no appetite)

  • Weakness

  • Abdominal discomfort but not pain

  • Change in bowel habits

  • Abdominal heaviness

  • Frequent passing of stools which are not hard in consistency

  • Burps

  • Feeling of something going wrong with your stomach

How is this disease transmitted?

Gastroenteritis is transmitted to a healthy individual by drinking contaminated water, eating contaminated food or sharing utensils with a diseased individual. Wet season and winter season are the seasons when most outbreaks of gastroenteritis are seen. However, it may occur in any season and environment.

How is gastroenteritis diagnosed?

Gastroenteritis is a quite common disorder of the digestive system. The diagnosis is usually clinical; in most cases, a history of the onset of symptoms and physical examination is enough to make the diagnosis. Some cases do, however, require lab tests and investigations. The tests that are performed in this case include:

  • Complete blood count - to look for an active infection

  • Stool culture - to look for the offending organism. This test is preferred in individuals who have recently traveled to developing countries.

  • Blood glucose level - to look for hypoglycemia (decreased level of sugar in blood). Hypoglycemia can be fatal which is why it is necessary to check blood sugar levels in patients with gastroenteritis.

  • Serum Electrolytes - to look for levels of Sodium, Potassium, Chloride, etc.

  • Abdominal Ultrasound

Physicians do not advise any of these tests until they suspect something dangerous.

What should you be aware of?

You should be aware of the most common complication of gastroenteritis -- dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth

  • Dry skin

  • Dry eyes

  • Excess thirst

  • Sleepiness/sluggishness

  • Oliguria - decreased frequency of urine

  • Headache

  • Lightheadedness

If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your physician immediately.

Recurrence

Gastroenteritis is condition that may redevelop if not treated properly. Most patients stop drugs without completing the given course which results in the recurrence of the disease. A patient may experience totally different symptoms every time the disease recurs.

Treatment and prevention

The aim of the treatment is to keep you hydrated and avoid foods that may worsen the symptoms. There are several home and self-care remedies that are aimed at keeping you hydrated. Most of the patients recover with over-the-counter medication; however, some cases require medical intervention.

Individuals who are dehydrated require hospital admission. Such patients are rehydrated by intravenous fluids.

It is necessary to make sure that you don't intake any junk food or the food that you're allergic too. Consuming such foods can reinitiate the gastroenteritis attack. Remember, you should immediately visit your doctor if you experience bloody diarrhea.

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