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Drug-Related Gastroenteritis and Chemical-Related Gastroenteritis


Jonathan Gotfried

, MD, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Last full review/revision Oct 2021| Content last modified Nov 2021

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 or chemicals.


Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are common side effects of many drugs. 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)

  • Drugs used to remove or destroy internal parasitic worms

  • Laxatives

Laxative abuse can lead to weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, electrolyte loss, and other disturbances.

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


Gastroenteritis may result from ingesting chemical toxins (see Overview of Food Poisoning Overview of Food Poisoning Food poisoning results from eating a plant or animal that contains a toxin. The poisoning occurs after ingesting poisonous species of mushrooms or plants or contaminated fish or shellfish. The... read more ). These toxins are usually produced by a plant, such as poisonous mushrooms Mushroom (Toadstool) Poisoning Many species of mushroom are poisonous. The potential for poisoning may vary within the same species, at different times of the growing season, and with cooking. It is difficult to differentiate... read more , or by certain kinds of exotic seafood Fish and Shellfish Poisoning Gastroenteritis may be caused by eating bony fish or shellfish. There are three common types of poisoning caused by eating bony fish: Ciguatera Tetrodotoxin Scombroid (See also Shellfish poisoning.) read more and thus are not the product of an infection. 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 Some causes of lead poisoning are ingesting lead paint and eating or drinking from certain imported, improperly lead-glazed ceramics. Very high levels of lead in the blood may cause personality... 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. Eating large amounts of acidic foods, such as citrus fruits and tomatoes, gives some people gastroenteritis.

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 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. Although babies may be fed breast milk or formula, the World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend exclusive... 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.

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