Gastroenteritis is the medical term for the stomach flu; this medical condition is characterized by the inflammation of the stomach and the small intestine. This is caused by a viral or bacterial infection of the stomach and the small intestine. Infection is often due to poor preparation of food or ingestion of contaminated food and water. The stomach flu usually lasts around 24 hours, but sometimes it stays for longer periods of time and causes great discomfort. Classical signs of the condition are fever, vomiting and diarrhea.
Stomach flu is a common medical condition which affects many people. Almost everyone has had an experience with the flu at one point in their life or another. Children are more prone to suffer from stomach flu than adults because of their developing immune systems and lifestyles. Incidences of the condition are also greater in developing countries due to poor sanitation or health practices.
Leading Causes of Gastroenteritis or Stomach Flu
- Viral Infection. Stomach flu in the United States is mainly caused by viral infections. Common colds are also caused by viruses and the difference between them and gastroenteritis is the area affected. Like any viral infection such as colds, once a person recovers from a specific virus he develops immunity to it. The problem with viral infection is that there are hundreds of viruses, and that’s why we experience colds through most of our lives.
- Bacterial Infection. Gastroenteritis through bacterial infection is not common in the United States. These types of infections are seen in developing countries or areas with little or poor sanitation. Food contaminated with bacteria is ingested because of poor food preparation or other contaminated materials entered into the mouth. This could also be seen in children who play in the open. Food is exposed to bacteria during play, or small hands pick up infected materials and place them in the mouth.
Common Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of stomach influenzas vary from one case to the other. Diarrhea is seen in most cases of infection. Severity of the condition can range from mild to severe, and sometimes life-threatening conditions can develop.
The following are typical symptoms of gastroenteritis:
- Stomach pain
- Gas pain (Flatulence)
- Abnormal bowel movements
- Body weakness
- Loss of appetite
Treating and Managing People with Gastroenteritis
Children are more likely to suffer from stomach flu or gastroenteritis than adults. Special attention is needed for small children and babies because stomach flu could lead to severe complications such as dehydration brought about by diarrhea. Studies show that gastroenteritis is one of the leading causes of infant death in developing countries. Immediate intervention for people suffering from stomach flu is introduction of fluids or re-hydration with water.
Gastroenteritis is caused by two factors, bacterial and viral infection. Antibiotics are used for bacterial infections, and there is no known cure for viral infections. Stomach flu due to viral infections is treated symptomatically. In viral-caused gastroenteritis, the influenza is allowed to run its course, and treatment is limited to managing symptoms such as diarrhea. People are discouraged from self-medicating. Many people think that antibiotics can cure any infection; there are many types of antibiotics that target specific disease-causing agents and might not be suitable for your type of infection. It is still best to consult your doctor if symptoms of stomach flu persist.
Anti-diarrhea medications are readily available from the pharmacy. These medications are great for immediate relief from severe diarrhea. It is important to remember that diarrhea is a natural response of the body to infections. Infectious contents such as mucus are passed out through stools. Medications should only be taken as a last result and drinking lots of liquids is still the best remedy.
Maintaining Fluid Balance
Diarrhea is the constant passing of soft stools or liquid. The greatest danger to this is that nutrients which are absorbed in the small intestines are passed out even before they are absorbed. This could lead to severe weakness, and is a life-threatening situation if no immediate action is taken.
It is important to remember that drinking large amounts of water is not a remedy for serious bouts of diarrhea. Pedialyte© is a rehydration fluid that keeps normal levels of fluids and nutrients in the body. It is similar to Intravenous fluids that are introduced to patients in the hospital. Water is not the only thing lost during diarrhea, important minerals and nutrients needed for normal body functioning also exit with stools.
Food intake determines what type of stools is produced. Under normal circumstances people should always eat fiber-rich diets. Fibers are not only good for preventing cancer and other diseases but they are also called bulk-forming foods. They produce stools with good consistency and prevent straining which may cause hemorrhoids.
A clear liquid diet is advised as it is easily absorbed during digestion. People should also avoid foods or drinks containing caffeine which can increase urination. Fluid loss through diarrhea is compounded by frequent urination thus increasing the chance of dehydration. Examples of foods and drinks which contain caffeine are coffee, tea and colas.
Danger Signs of Dehydration
The most serious complication of diarrhea is dehydration. It is important to know the different signs of dehydration especially if the person suffering gastroenteritis is a child or infant. Unlike adults, children and infants can’t express in great details what they’re feeling. This in turn is the reason why deaths continue to occur because diarrhea is not treated at its early stages.
Signs of dehydration in children and infants are the following:
- Sunken eyes
- Weight loss (water is a major component of the body, fluid loss is directly proportional to weight loss)
- Dry membranes (lips and mouth appear to be dry)
- Dry skin (loss of moisture)
- Decreased urine output
Millions of Americans suffer from gastroenteritis or stomach flu yearly. It, usually, lasts for a couple of days at the most. The Stomach flu is not a serious condition but it poses great inconvenience and suffering for a short time. Gastroenteritis is a simple medical condition that can give rise to other complications which can pose serious health risks.
Gastroenteritis is a major cause of infant mortality in the developing world. Education and a healthy lifestyle should be promoted to improve the quality of life for people, especially children living in less fortunate countries.
written by, Ronald Uy, RN
© 2009 H.I.C. Digestive Health
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