Merck Manual

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Drug-Related Gastroenteritis and Chemical-Related Gastroenteritis


Jonathan Gotfried

, MD, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed/Revised Jun 2023

Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the lining of the stomach and small and large intestines. Although it is usually caused by infection with a microorganism, it can also be caused by ingesting drugs, medications, or chemicals.

Drugs and Medications

Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are common side effects of many drugs and medications. Common offenders include

  • Antacids containing magnesium as a major ingredient

  • Antibiotics

  • Chemotherapy drugs

  • Immunotherapy

  • Radiation therapy

  • Colchicine (for gout)

  • Digoxin (usually used for heart failure or certain irregular heart rhythms)

  • Medications used to treat internal parasitic worms

  • Laxatives

Recognizing that a drug or medication is causing gastroenteritis can be difficult. In mild cases, a doctor can have a person stop taking the drug or medication and later start taking it again. If the symptoms subside when the person stops taking the drug or medication and resume when the person starts taking it again, it may be the cause of the gastrointestinal symptoms. In severe cases of gastroenteritis, a doctor may instruct the person to stop taking the drug or medication permanently.


Gastroenteritis due to chemical toxicity can also occur after ingesting water or food contaminated by chemicals such as arsenic and heavy metals such as lead Lead Poisoning Lead poisoning affects many parts of the body, including the brain, nerves, kidneys, liver, and blood. Children are particularly susceptible because their nervous system is still developing... read more , mercury, or cadmium or after directly eating or swallowing a chemical or metal. Heavy-metal poisoning frequently causes nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

Doctors ask about recent contact with contaminated food or water or with heavy metals. Sometimes gastroenteritis can be traced to contaminated water or inadequately cooked, spoiled, or contaminated food. People who have ingested a heavy metal may have a blood test to determine the level of metal that is in the blood.


  • Rehydration

Usually the only treatment needed for gastroenteritis, including gastroenteritis caused by drugs, medications, or chemicals, is getting bed rest and drinking an adequate amount of fluid. Even a person who is vomiting should drink as much as can be tolerated, taking small frequent sips.

If vomiting or diarrhea is prolonged or the person becomes severely dehydrated, fluids and electrolytes given by vein (intravenously) may be needed.

Because children can become dehydrated more quickly, they should be given fluids with the appropriate mix of salts and sugars. Any of the commercially available solutions designed to replace lost fluids and electrolytes (called oral rehydration solutions Treatment Dehydration is loss of water from the body, usually caused by vomiting and/or diarrhea. Dehydration occurs when there is significant loss of body water and, to varying amounts, electrolytes... read more ) are satisfactory. Carbonated beverages, teas, sports drinks, beverages containing caffeine, and fruit juices are not appropriate. If the child is breastfed, breastfeeding Breastfeeding Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. Although babies may be fed breast milk or formula, the World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend... read more Breastfeeding should continue.

As the symptoms subside, the person may gradually add foods to the diet. There is no need to limit the diet to bland foods such as cereal, gelatin, bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. However, some people are unable to tolerate milk products for a few days after having diarrhea.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
Digitek , Lanoxicaps, Lanoxin, Lanoxin Pediatric
Cafcit, NoDoz, Stay Awake, Vivarin
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