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Gastroenteritis
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Gastroenteritis

Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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INFECTIOUS DISEASE

Viral Illnesses

Gastroenteritis is a nonspecific term for a variety of pathologic states of the gastrointestinal tract. The primary manifestation is diarrhea, but it may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. A universal definition of diarrhea does not exist, although patients seem to have no difficulty defining their own situation. Although most definitions center around the frequency, consistency, and water content of stools, the author prefers the definition that diarrheal stools take the shape of their container.

Self-care

Unfortunately, there's often no specific medical treatment for gastroenteritis. Antibiotics aren't effective against most viruses, and overusing them can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. To help keep yourself more comfortable and prevent dehydration while you recover, try the following:

  • Stop eating and drinking for a few hours until your stomach has settled.

  • Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water. You might also try drinking clear soda such as 7UP or Sprite, clear broths, or noncaffeinated sports drinks such as Gatorade. Affected adults should try to drink at least eight to 16 glasses of liquid every day, taking small, frequent sips.

  • Gradually begin to eat bland, easy-to-digest foods such as soda crackers, toast, gelatin, bananas, rice and chicken. Stop eating if your nausea returns.

  • Avoid dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and fatty or highly seasoned foods until you're feeling better.

  • Get plenty of rest.

  • Use medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) sparingly, if at all. They can make your stomach more upset. Use acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) cautiously. It sometimes can cause liver toxicity, especially in children.

When your child has an intestinal infection, the most important goal is to replace lost fluids and salts. These suggestions may help:

  • Give your child chips of ice to suck or water to sip. Water won't replace electrolytes, however. That's why the best choice may be an oral hydration solution such as Pedialyte. You can find these solutions in most grocery stores. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about how to use them. Avoid giving your child apple juice for rehydration — it can make diarrhea worse. White grape juice is a good choice.

  • Gradually introduce bland, easy-to-digest foods, such as toast, rice, bananas and potatoes.

  • Avoid giving your child dairy products and sugary foods, such as ice cream, sodas and candy. These can make diarrhea worse.

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.

  • Don't give children or teenagers aspirin. It may cause Reye's syndrome, a rare, but potentially fatal, disease. Avoid giving your child over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications such as Imodium unless advised by your doctor. They can make it harder for your child's body to eliminate the virus.

If you have a sick infant, let your baby's stomach rest for 30 to 60 minutes, then offer small amounts of liquid. If you're breast-feeding, let your baby nurse. If your baby is bottle-fed, offer a small amount of an oral rehydrating formula (Pedialyte, Infalyte) or regular formula. Although your baby may be dehydrated, never dilute formula.

Gastroenteritis > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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