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The condition known as gastroenteritis results in irritatedand inflamed stomach and gastrointestinal tract and is usually accompanied bynausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps and pains in the abdominal region. Gastroenteritis is sometimes confused with food poisoning orstomach flu due to vomiting and diarrhea. As a consequence of vomiting and diarrhea, valuable salts and minerals are lost. The immune system plays the essential role in deciding howsevere the infection might get. The recovery in adults is usually easy, and affected individuals go back to their normal diet soon, though it can be moredifficult for infants and elderly population, since the loss of electrolytescan lead to a potentially life-threatening dehydration.

Symptoms

Stomach and intestines are both affected by gastroenteritis,leading to vomiting and diarrhea, while other symptoms such as nausea, fever to 100°F(37.7°C), pains and cramps in the stomach, and bloating are also associated with thecondition. Symptoms which are more severe include swollen or painful abdomen, fever higher than 101°F (40°C), thepresence of blood in vomit or stools, vomiting that lasts over 48 hours and which is sometimes followed by dehydration, decreased sweating andurination, weakness and dizziness.

Common Causes

The condition is usually caused by viruses, bacteria,parasites or food-poisoning. Viruses and bacteria causing gastroenteritis are infectiousand they are usually spread through food and water, or from person to person incases of inadequate hand hygiene or contact with the excrement (e.g. whenchanging diapers). Other common causes of non-infectious gastroenteritisinclude chemical toxins, found especially in seafood, medications and heavymetals. Gastroenteritis caused by a viral infection usually lasts aday or two, unlike bacterial infection which tends to prolong the condition. Estimated 50%-70% of gastroenteritis cases in adults arecaused by noroviruses, while rotavirus is the dominant agent ofgastrointestinal symptoms in children. Astroviruses, adenoviruses and parvoviruses may also cause gastroenteritis.

As for bacteria, Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Shigella andCampylobacter are the leading causes of gastroenteritis. The bacteriaStaphylococcus aureus produces the poisonous substance responsible for the samesymptoms, while Salmonella is contracted from getting in touch with poultry andreptiles that carry the germs. Shigella is spread from human to human, whereasrare meat and unpasteurized milk can contain Campylobacter. After the use of antibiotics to treat an infection, patient’sintestines may be infested with Clostridium difficile bacteria as result ofovergrowth. Apart from these, gastroenteritis can sometimes be caused byparasites and protozoas found in drinking water and swimming pools.

Treatment

Vaccination and stopping the spread of the causing agent arethe main preventive measures, but regular hand hygiene, properly stored and cookedfood also count as prevention. Vaccines against Salmonella typhi, Vibrio cholerae, androtavirus are now available, and it is recommended that infants get vaccinatedagainst rotavirus, while travelers going to risky areas can undergo vaccinationfor S. typhi and V. cholerae.

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