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Gastroenteritis: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis as the name suggests, is the inflammation of the inner lining of the stomach and intestines. This results from bacterial or the viral infection of the digestive tract. Inflamed digestive tract leads to diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain in the affected individual. This infection may vary from mild to severe, depending upon the offending agent and immune system of the individual.

Gastroenteritis: Incidence, age and sex

Gastroenteritis is a fairly common gastro-intestinal condition encountered in the general population. It may be seen in any age group including infants, children and adults. However, it is more common in young children and older adults.

Signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis: Diagnosis

The clinical features of gastroenteritis may vary among individuals and usually depend upon the causative factor. However, the most common signs and symptoms are increased frequency of stools which are usually loose in consistency. This may be accompanied with nausea or vomiting. An affected individual may also complain of intense abdominal cramps along with fever and chills. Other associated features include loss of appetite, weakness or a sensation of abdominal bloating. Bacterial gastroenteritis may last for days and usually requires medications for its effective treatment. On the other hand, viral gastroenteritis may vary in duration and is self-limiting in most individuals.

The gastroenterologist would like to take a detailed history and conduct a comprehensive physical examination to establish the diagnosis. However, certain tests may be advised to detect the causative organism. Standard blood tests may reveal increased white blood cell count which is an indication of bacterial infection.

Causes and prevention of gastroenteritis

The most common cause of gastroenteritis is infection which may be bacterial, viral or parasitic in origin. Bacterial gastroenteritis is more frequently encountered than viral or parasitic gastroenteritis. Other less common causes of gastroenteritis include chemicals and toxins like poisonous sea food, heavy metal poisoning or even drugs.

Gastroenteritis can be prevented by maintaining adequate hygiene measures and avoidance of consuming uncooked food without washing. Infectious gastroenteritis may spread from person to person through direct or indirect contact with infected faeces. Therefore regular hand washing before eating food is must in preventing gastro-intestinal infections.

Gastroenteritis: Complications

Gastroenteritis leads to extensive fluid loss, which may result in dehydration which is evident by dry skin, sunken eyes and palpitations. Other features of dehydration include excess thirst, markedly decreased urination and lethargy and mental confusion in later stage. Dehydration is generally not grave until and unless it is encountered in young children and elderly individuals in whom it may be potentially fatal, if not treated urgently.

Gastroenteritis: Treatment

It is essential to evaluate the cause of gastroenteritis and manage it effectively. Meanwhile, it is advisable to replenish the dehydrated body with sufficient fluids. Fruit juices are better avoided since they irritate the intestinal mucosa and cause increased intestinal disruption. Semi-solid diet is generally helpful in this condition.

The medical treatment includes symptomatic relief which may be provided by medications like anti motility agents which help in reducing the frequency of loose stools. Anti-emetic drugs may be prescribed to control vomiting. Other medications like antibiotics and anti-parasitic agents may be prescribed if the diagnosis of offending agent has been established. Moreover, it is advisable to avoid medications like NSAIDs which may further irritate the gut lining. It is advisable to manage this infection urgently if the affected person is a child or an elderly. Such people are more prone to develop dehydration due to loss of fluids in diarrhoea and vomiting.