Viral Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu) – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is viral gastroenteritis?
Viral gastroenteritis is a viral infection of stomach and intestines. This condition typically causes watery diarrheas, abdominal cramps, and nausea or vomiting. This condition is sometimes called stomach flu.
What causes viral gastroenteritis?
Many different types of viruses can cause viral gastroenteritis. Viral gastroenteritis spreads through contact with small particles of an infected person’s stool or vomit.
The following are the most common viruses that cause viral gastroenteritis:
- Norovirus (Norwalk-like virus).
- Rotavirus. This virus is the leading cause in children. It can also infect adults who are exposed to children with the virus, and people living in nursing homes.
- Enteric adenovirus.
Gastroenteritis can affect one person or a group of people who all ate the same food or drank the same water. The germs may get into your system in one of the following ways:
- From food or water
- Through objects such as plates and eating utensils
- Passed from person to person by way of close contact
What are the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis?
The symptoms of viral gastroenteritis most often appear within 4 to 48 hours after contact with the virus.
The typical symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include:
- Watery diarrhea
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
The following other symptoms may also occur with viral gastroenteritis:
- Chills, clammy skin, or sweating
- Joint stiffness or muscle pain
- Weight loss
- Poor feeding (infants)
How is viral gastroenteritis treated?
The doctor will perform a physical exam and review your symptoms. During the exam, the doctor will look for signs of dehydration, including:
- Mouth dryness
- Lethargy or coma (severe dehydration)
- Low blood pressure
- Low or no urine output, concentrated urine that looks dark yellow
- Fontanelles (sunken soft spots) on the top of an infant’s head
- No Tears
- Sunken eyes
The doctor may conduct tests of stool samples to identify the virus that is causing the infection. However, most of the time, this test is not needed. A stool culture may be done to check if bacteria are causing the problem.
How is viral gastroenteritis treated?
The goal of treatment would be to make sure the body has enough water and fluids. The doctor may ask you to drink extra fluids to replace fluids and electrolytes (salt and minerals) that are lost through diarrhea or vomiting.
The doctor may ask you to avoid fruit juice (including apple juice), sodas or cola (flat or bubbly), Jell-O, or broth. These liquids do not replace lost minerals and can make diarrhea worse.
The doctor may recommend drinking electrolyte solutions, rehydration solutions, or sports beverages such as Gatorade. Gatorade may not be recommended for young children. Electrolyte solutions or freezer pops are recommended for young children.
The doctor may instruct you to:
- Drink small amounts of fluid (2 to 4 oz. or 60 to 120 mL) every 30 to 60 minutes. Do not try to force down large amounts of fluid at one time, which can cause vomiting. Use a teaspoon (5 milliliters) or syringe for an infant or small child.
- Continue breast milk or formula along with extra fluids for infants.
The doctor may ask you to try and eat small amounts of the following foods frequently:
- Cereals, bread, potatoes, lean meats
- Plain yogurt, bananas, fresh apples
The doctor may recommend IV fluids if you have diarrhea and are unable to drink or keep down fluids because of nausea or vomiting. Infants and young children are more likely to need IV fluids.
The doctor may recommend taking over-the-counter medicines to help stop or slow diarrhea.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.