Gastroenteritis, sometimes called gastro, is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. That is where the word comes from. Gastro- means stomach, entero- means small intestine, and itis means inflammation. In most cases, it causes a combination of cramping, abdominal pain, vomiting, and/or diarrhoea. This can range from an annoyance to a serious medical condition. Typically, the difference relies on the cause of the gastro and whether the sufferer seeks treatment. This condition is also called the stomach flu or gastric flu even though it is not caused by influenza. Your best option is preventing the inflammation in the first place, but if that fails, then you should know how to stop it. Since it is a dangerous and embarrassing condition, you probably want to stop it quickly.
Typically, diarrhoea is caused by one of three causes: rotavirus, norovirus, and campylobacter. Rotavirus is the most common cause in children. Norovirus and campylobacter are usually the causes in adults. Other viruses, parasites, or bacteria can also cause gastroenteritis, but these are the most common.
You can contract any of these bacteria or viruses by coming into contact with faecal matter. The faecal matter in question, obviously, has to contain the bacteria or virus. That is why one of the most common methods of prevention is hand washing with soap. Faecal matter is disturbingly prevalent in bathrooms, and removing it from your hands is the most reliable way to stay safe.
However, you do not have to come into direct contact with faeces to contract one of these viruses. Food or drinking water that comes into contact with these pathogens can also cause stomach flu. This is why it often falls into the very broad category of “food poisoning.” Food poisoning can involve any of several viruses and bacteria that result from unsafe food preparation. That can mean the preparer or server of the food had the pathogen on his or her hands. It can also mean that the food was not cooked to a safe temperature that kills natural pathogens. This is most typical with meat or unwashed produce.
In certain areas, contaminated groundwater is a concern. Improved sanitation in your home and area is the only way to prevent this. If you fear the drinking water has been contaminated, you are best boiling your water before drinking it or drinking bottled water.
The other way to contract gastro is to come into direct contact with someone else who has it. This is most common when someone in a household has the stomach flu, and someone else takes care of that person. In this case, good hygiene and sanitation practices are the only methods of prevention.
If you have already contracted gastroenteritis, you can only treat the problem to alleviate it as quickly as possible. Gastro treatment focuses mostly on maintaining hydration levels and shortening the duration.
The preferred treatment is an oral rehydration solution. These are solutions of clean water with considerable amounts of salts and sugars. They help to bring the body’s water levels back into balance. Zinc has also proven helpful for treating dehydration. The body loses more than just water when you have diarrhoea. You also lose electrolytes, which are essential nutrients for healthy bodily function. They help your cells retain water and help other nutrients flow into the cells. Dehydration is actually more than just losing water. If you are very low on electrolytes and replenish your body with only water, you can still be dehydrated. Without the nutrients, your body will not be able to absorb fully and utilise the water.
Rehydration is the preferred method of dealing with gastroenteritis, but it is not the only one. Rehydration allows you to maintain healthy body function as your body purges the pathogen. However, if you have to go to work, go to school, or just function day to day, you might need some other help. You will need to reduce the number of bowel movements so that you can work. Some benefit from administering certain probiotics which help regulate the organisms in the intestines. These can reduce the frequency of bowel movements as well as the duration of gastro. They can also be helping in preventing future episodes.
Antiemetics are useful in reducing or eliminating vomiting associated with gastroenteritis. Usually, antibiotics are not prescribed, but they can be in cases of severe symptoms. These work by killing the offending bacteria.
Also, antimotility drugs have been shown to be effective, since they operate by reducing the movement of the bowels. They can, in theory, cause complications, but that is only in rare cases.
What You Should Do
Gastroenteritis, though painful and uncomfortable, is typically a self-limited ailment. That means it runs its course. You should make sure that you stay hydrated as best you can, eat well, and take a medication that will speed up the recovery process.
As far as staying hydrated, an oral rehydration solution is useful, but you can rehydrate with several different options. Sports drinks, energy drinks, and sodas are not a good option; large amounts of simple sugar are not recommended for those with gastro. Your best options are water, clear soups, and clear broths. You can rely on your thirst to alert you when you should drink more water. Only rely on plain water if you are also eating a nutrient-rich diet.
That diet should consist of normal foods but in smaller or lighter proportions. If you have nausea and vomiting, you should probably avoid food for the first day. For a day or so, you can rely on just broths and soups.
If you see blood in your stool or your symptoms persist, you should consult a medical professional. In severe cases, you will need medication or intravenous hydration. You should also see a medical professional if your symptoms worsen. Gastroenteritis is a very broad category of ailments that can be caused by several different pathogens, some worse than others. It’s best to stay safe and not take chances with your health. However, in most cases of diarrhoea, it will pass in a few days with proper hydration and some over the counter remedies.