Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis is also known as stomach flu. This condition affects the stomach and intestinal tract. It can cause sudden diarrhea and vomiting. The illness typically lasts 3 to 8 days. Most people develop an immune response that eventually gets rid of the virus. While this natural response develops, the virus can make you quite ill.

CAUSES

Many different viruses can cause gastroenteritis, such as rotavirus or noroviruses. You can catch one of these viruses by consuming contaminated food or water. You may also catch a virus by sharing utensils or other personal items with an infected person or by touching a contaminated surface.

SYMPTOMS

The most common symptoms are diarrhea and vomiting. These problems can cause a severe loss of body fluids (dehydration) and a body salt (electrolyte) imbalance. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fever.

  • Headache.

  • Fatigue.

  • Abdominal pain.

DIAGNOSIS

Your caregiver can usually diagnose viral gastroenteritis based on your symptoms and a physical exam. A stool sample may also be taken to test for the presence of viruses or other infections.

TREATMENT

This illness typically goes away on its own. Treatments are aimed at rehydration. The most serious cases of viral gastroenteritis involve vomiting so severely that you are not able to keep fluids down. In these cases, fluids must be given through an intravenous line (IV).

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Drink enough fluids to keep your urine clear or pale yellow. Drink small amounts of fluids frequently and increase the amounts as tolerated.

  • Ask your caregiver for specific rehydration instructions.

  • Avoid:

  • Foods high in sugar.

  • Alcohol.

  • Carbonated drinks.

  • Tobacco.

  • Juice.

  • Caffeine drinks.

  • Extremely hot or cold fluids.

  • Fatty, greasy foods.

  • Too much intake of anything at one time.

  • Dairy products until 24 to 48 hours after diarrhea stops.

  • You may consume probiotics. Probiotics are active cultures of beneficial bacteria. They may lessen the amount and number of diarrheal stools in adults. Probiotics can be found in yogurt with active cultures and in supplements.

  • Wash your hands well to avoid spreading the virus.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver. Do not give aspirin to children. Antidiarrheal medicines are not recommended.

  • Ask your caregiver if you should continue to take your regular prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.

  • Keep all follow-up appointments as directed by your caregiver.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You are unable to keep fluids down.

  • You do not urinate at least once every 6 to 8 hours.

  • You develop shortness of breath.

  • You notice blood in your stool or vomit. This may look like coffee grounds.

  • You have abdominal pain that increases or is concentrated in one small area (localized).

  • You have persistent vomiting or diarrhea.

  • You have a fever.

  • The patient is a child younger than 3 months, and he or she has a fever.

  • The patient is a child older than 3 months, and he or she has a fever and persistent symptoms.

  • The patient is a child older than 3 months, and he or she has a fever and symptoms suddenly get worse.

  • The patient is a baby, and he or she has no tears when crying.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.