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Gastroenteritis: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Gastroenteritis is a clinical condition that can give you diarrhea and vomiting as a result of inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is a syndrome that results in diarrhea and vomiting caused by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. In addition to these symptoms, abdominal pain and cramping may occur, and more severe cases can cause severe dehydration.

The most frequent cause of gastroenteritis is of infectious origin. In this sense, the most common source microorganisms are viruses in children and bacteria in adults.

Who is affected?

Gastroenteritis is currently one of the most common syndromes, with between 3 and 5 billion cases a year. It is one of the main reasons for medical appointments in developed countries, which leads to a very high economic cost.

The greatest risk of infection occurs during rainy seasons or during winter, due to a decrease in water quality.

It can affect any person, but the most affected group of individuals is children, especially those under 5 years of age, as adults have developed acquired immunity.

Developing countries have a high incidence rate of the syndrome. This is often due to cholera, since there are many areas where hygiene is low and the waters are contaminated, causing there to be a high risk of epidemics.

Causes of gastroenteritis

As mentioned above, viruses and bacteria are the main causes of the syndrome, although there are cases of gastroenteritis caused by parasites. There is a lower percentage of cases due to non-infectious causes, such as Crohn’s disease or lactose intolerance.


  • Rotavirus
  • Norovirus
  • Adenovirus
  • Astrovirus

Rotavirus is the main infectious agent in children, since the risk of infection is also very high due to their lack of immunity and their lower level of hygiene. In adults, the main cause of gastroenteritis is norovirus, especially in America.

Viruses are responsible for more than 70% of infectious diarrhea in childhood, because children do not have as competent an immune system as an adult.


  • Escherichia Coli
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Salmonella
  • Clostridium difficile
  • Vibrio cholerae

Bacteria often cause gastroenteritis because of food contamination. If the food is kept at room temperature, bacteria will proliferate and the chances of getting an infection will increase.

Cholera is a disease, caused by V. cholerae, which is transmitted through contaminated food and/or water. Cholera is a major cause of gastroenteritis, especially in countries in Africa and Asia.

The use of antibiotics, sometimes, also favors the appearance of gastroenteritis. One of the causes of diarrhea in the elderly and in hospitalized patients is Clostridium difficile infection.

How is it transmitted?

The transmission can occur through various mechanisms, the most common being that it is passed through physical contact with infected people or through water or contaminated food.

The greatest risk of infection occurs during rainy seasons or during winter, due to the decrease in water quality.

Transmission is also associated with poor hygiene and malnutrition, which usually occur in children. However, the causes of gastroenteritis are so diverse that it is impossible to define a single method of transmission.

Incubation time and contagion period

The symptoms of gastroenteritis usually appear 1 to 3 days after contracting the infection.

The gastroenteritis has changeable duration, while vomiting and diarrhea often disappear from 3 to 8 days. If the diarrhea is not properly treated it can become chronic.

On the other hand, it is noteworthy that adults can develop tolerance, so they can be carriers of some infectious agents and not have an infection. In other words, individuals can continue to be contagious after the symptomatic period, so it is necessary that you must keep up precautionary measures.

Symptoms of gastroenteritis

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea: When the cause is bacterial, blood may appear in the stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps

Viral gastroenteritis also presents with fever, tiredness and muscle pain.


The most common complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration, as a consequence of diarrhea. Dehydration is classified as mild (<5%), moderate (5 – 9%) and severe (> 10%). In moderate and severe dehydration, sunken eyes, lack of tears and dry mouth are present. In addition, the individual is less active, and the skin loses its elasticity.

Differential diagnosis

  • Volvulus
  • Diabetes
  • Appendicitis
  • Celiac Disease
  • Food poisoning
  • Abuse of laxative intake
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

The diagnosis of gastroenteritis is clinical, so it is necessary to rule out other pathologies.


The treatment of gastroenteritis will be based mainly on rehydration and good nutrition. It is not advisable to consume drinks with sugar because they could worsen the diarrhea.

Rehydration will be carried out by means of oral rehydration salts or with pure water, in the event that the former is not available.

It is recommended to maintain a normal diet, decreasing one’s intake of sugars and increasing one’s intake of probiotics. Some cases of gastroenteritis could be treated with antiemetics, antibiotics and antispasmodics, but this is unusual.

Prevention and vaccination

The main preventive measures are good hygiene and the consumption of non-contaminated water and food. Washing one’s hands decreases the incidence of gastroenteritis by up to 30%.

Currently, rotavirus vaccination programs are being carried out, which are being very effective worldwide.

Via: WebMD | TheConversation

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