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Merck Manual

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Quick Facts

Gastroenteritis

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Aug 2019
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What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is inflammation of your stomach and intestines.

  • Gastroenteritis is usually caused by an infection with a virus or bacteria

  • You feel very sick to your stomach, throw up, and have diarrhea

  • Throwing up and diarrhea can lead to dehydration (not having enough water in your body), which is especially dangerous in old people and babies

  • To help prevent the spread of gastroenteritis, wash your hands after using the bathroom and avoid undercooked food

  • Gastroenteritis usually goes away on its own

  • You'll need extra fluids and sometimes drugs to help stop vomiting or diarrhea

  • Antibiotics don't usually help with gastroenteritis

What causes gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is usually caused by:

Other causes include:

What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?

Symptoms start suddenly and include:

  • Nausea and throwing up

  • Belly rumbles or cramps

  • Diarrhea

How can doctors tell I have gastroenteritis?

Doctors know you have gastroenteritis from your symptoms. They usually don't need to do tests, but sometimes they may do:

  • Stool (poop) tests

How do doctors treat gastroenteritis?

For adults with mild gastroenteritis, doctors will have you:

  • Take small, frequent sips of fluid

  • Eat regular food as soon as your stomach feels up to it

If you're a healthy adult, the kind of fluid and food really doesn't matter.

If your baby or young child has gastroenteritis, you should give them:

  • Oral rehydration fluid, which you can get in a drug store or supermarket

Oral rehydration fluids have the right balance of salts and minerals that babies and young children need.

For more severe gastroenteritis, doctors may:

  • Give you fluids by vein (IV)

  • Give you medicines to stop nausea and diarrhea

  • Give you medicine to get rid of parasites, if a parasite is causing your gastroenteritis

  • For certain rarer kinds of gastroenteritis, give you antibiotics

How can I prevent gastroenteritis?

The following lower your chance of getting gastroenteritis:

  • Washing hands well after using the bathroom and before preparing food

  • Cooking meat and eggs thoroughly

  • Not eating food from street vendors while traveling

  • Trying not to swallow water while swimming in lakes and oceans

  • Getting your children the rotavirus vaccine

  • For babies, breastfeeding

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