Gastroenteritis arises from ingestion of viruses, certain bacteria, or parasites. Food that has spoiled may also cause illness. Certain medications and excessive alcohol can irritate the digestive tract to the point of inducing gastroenteritis. Regardless of the cause, the symptoms of gastroenteritis include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and abdominal pain and cramps. Sufferers may also experience bloating, low fever, and overall tiredness. Typically, the symptoms last only two to three days, but some viruses may last up to a week.
A usual bout of gastroenteritis shouldn't require a visit to the doctor. However, medical treatment is essential if symptoms worsen or if there are complications. Infants, young children, the elderly, and persons with underlying disease require special attention in this regard.
The greatest danger presented by gastroenteritis is dehydration. The loss of fluids through diarrhea and vomiting can upset the body's electrolyte balance, leading to potentially life-threatening problems such as heart beat abnormalities (arrhythmia). The risk of dehydration increases as symptoms are prolonged. Dehydration should be suspected if a dry mouth, increased or excessive thirst, or scanty urination is experienced.
If symptoms do not resolve within a week, an infection or disorder more serious than gastroenteritis may be involved. Symptoms of great concern include a high fever (102° F [38.9°C] or above), blood or mucus in the diarrhea, blood in the vomit, and severe abdominal pain or swelling. These symptoms require prompt medical attention.
Julia Barrett, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,