Gastroenteritis develops when the gastrointestinal tract or the stomach and the intestines get inflamed and irritated. Gastroenteritis is generally caused by bacterial or parasitic infections or food-borne illnesses. Infectious gastroenteritis then develops depending on how strong your body’s immune system is and how well it fights off the infection.

In some cases, people recover in no time from short bouts of vomiting and diarrhea symptomatic of gastroenteritis. In some cases however patients start to get dehydrated as a result of the constant vomiting and nausea and a host of other complications and side effects develop as a result.

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis

The most common symptoms of gastroenteritis include:

  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Diarrhea (that is non-bloody)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle ache or body pain
  • Low-grade fever

Symptoms occur within two to three days of contracting the infection and can last for as long as ten days. Stomach flu symptoms are often confused with the symptoms of common flu or influenza. While they may share certain commonalities in terms of symptoms such as body pain, fever and vomiting, influenza affects your respiratory system whereas gastroenteritis only affects your digestive system.

If you exhibit any of the following symptoms contact your doctor immediately as they may signify a medical emergency:

  • You have been vomiting for more than 48 hours
  • There is blood in your vomit
  • You can’t keep down even liquids for over 24 hours
  • There is blood in your stools
  • You are dehydrated with symptoms of dark yellow urine, fatigue, dizziness and excessive thirst
  • Severe stomach pain or rectal pain
  • You have a high fever that wont go down with medication
  • You feel lethargic or irritable (especially in the case of small children)
  • If your baby has not had a wet diaper in over six hours, has blood in his stools, has uncontrollable diarrhea, has been vomiting non-stop, has a dry mouth, is unresponsive and drowsy and has a sunken fontanel, call your doctor at the earliest as well

Causes of Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis has many causes. Viruses and bacteria are the most common. These virus and bacteria flourish in food or water that is contaminated and are very contagious. Infections can also spread from person to person through physical contact or through the use of contaminated utensils, towels, and other personal items.

  • Viral Causes of Gastroenteritis: The Norovirus is a type of virus that accounts for almost fifty percent of adult gastroenteritis cases. The Norovirus can be transmitted between people infected with the virus or through food and water that has been contaminated. Sharing food and utensils with a person who is infected is a surefire way of contracting the disease as well. Environments that are confined and facilitate closer contact like schools, nursing homes, and day care centers are especially susceptible to exposure to the infection and a rampant spread of the disease.

Another virus responsible for gastroenteritis is the rotavirus. Once the leading cause of severe diarrhea in the country, there is now a rotavirus vaccine that has effectively eradicated the disease.

Other viruses that cause gastroenteritis are the adenovirus, the parvovirus, and the astrovirus.

  • Bacterial Causes of Gastroenteritis: Bacteria such as E. coli or staphylococcus aureus infect the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and cause the debilitating symptoms of the disease. Some bacteria cause the body to produce a toxin that leads to other medical problems such as bloody diarrhea and kidney damage. Bacteria such as Salmonella, Shigella and Campylobacter are also common causes of gastroenteritis. Handling animals infected with the bacteria, consuming raw or undercooked food and cross contamination put you at risk of infection.
  • Parasitic Infections: Parasites can also cause gastroenteritis by causing irritation and inflammation of the intestine and stomach. You can get infected with a parasite by either drinking contaminated water or even when swimming in a contaminated pool. Giardia is one such parasite that can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting. The parasite Crypto can lead to a weakened immune system and a long-term infection.
  • In rare cases gastroenteritis may be caused by allergies to food, certain medications, chemical toxins and heavy metals.

Remedies for Gastroenteritis

The best treatment for gastroenteritis is rehydration and rest. There is a significant loss of fluids caused by the constant vomiting and diarrhea brought upon by the disease. This leads to an electrolyte imbalance and dehydration that affects the normal functioning of the body. Once you can start keeping down food and liquids and are on your way to recovery, you can slowly start introducing water, juices, and lemon juice into your daily diet. Herbal teas can also help, especially teas made of blackberry root, thyme, and garlic.

 Natural treatment for gastroenteritis can be extremely effective, but the effectiveness also varies depending on the type of infection causing the condition. Medical treatment may also be necessary particularly when dealing with bacterial or parasitic infections. This said, home remedies have an important role to play in gastroenteritis treatment, in that they can help to hasten recovery and minimize the symptoms and their effects on your health. Home treatment involves a three pronged approach with home remedies, diet modifications and lifestyle changes. While there are numerous home remedies that can help in the treatment of gastroenteritis, not all of these methods have been scientifically tested and so their effectiveness may vary greatly.

  • Mix a pinch of baking soda in a glass of water. Alternate between sipping this mix and a glass of citrus juice mixed with honey, half teaspoon of corn syrup, and rock salt. Drinking these two mixes can help soothe the intestinal tract and reduce symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.
  • It may also be a good idea to include plenty of yogurt in your diet, naturally the Probiotic variety. This is not just great as a dietary modification, but it’s also effective for its therapeutic value. According to many studies lactobacillus therapy is in fact an effective and safe
  • Apply a warm compress or hot water bag on the stomach to reduce pain and cramping.
  • Mix one teaspoon of clay in a glass of water and drink this every two hours for the best results.
  • Try alternative remedies such as acupressure, aromatherapy and acupuncture to treat symptoms of gastroenteritis.
  • Rehydrate by sucking on ice chips if you are still vomiting and can’t keep down any food. If infants or children are suffering from diarrhea and vomiting, replace lost fluids by giving them special oral rehydration solutions. These commercially available preparations balance out electrolytes and prevent dehydration.

Diet for Gastroenteritis

Since gastroenteritis affects the digestive system, extreme care has to be taken regarding the food you eat during the period of recovery. Symptoms of gastroenteritis such as vomiting and nausea, diarrhea and stomach cramps prevent you from eating normally. However, it is important to keep up your intake of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to speed up the recovery process and boost your immune system to fight off the infection.

  • Until you feel better, it is recommended that you avoid certain food items. Meals that are rich in fats, oil and spice can further aggravate the lining of the stomach and prevent healing. A simple diet consisting of easy to digest foods and fresh fruit and vegetables is preferable until our digestive system has recovered. A diet for gastroenteritis is considered an essential part of the treatment and should be adhered to strictly.
  • During the early stages of the illness, a liquid diet is preferable. This helps prevent dehydration and replaces lost fluids in the body. Excessive vomiting also creates and imbalance of electrolytes that can be treated by drinking oral rehydration solutions, water and fresh fruit juices. Mixing a pinch of salt and sugar in your drinks also helps reduce symptoms of the disease such as diarrhea, as this is also used as an oral rehydration solution.
  • Once you start feeling better, you can start introducing foods such as applesauce, plain white rice and bananas into your diet. Referred to in clinical terms as the BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast) diet, these foods help restore balance in the stomach and intestines and do not put undue pressure on the digestive process.
  • Avoid dairy products rich in fats and sugar such as ice cream and cream. This can aggravate diarrhea and cause nausea as well.
  • Caffeine and carbonated beverages should be avoided too. They offer no nutrition and can increase dehydration in the body.
  • Try and stick to home-cooked meals for a few weeks after the illness. Large heavy meals should also be avoided. It is better to have several small meals in a day so that no extra stress is put on the digestive system and the healing time is reduced.
  • In cases of infants who have gastroenteritis, breast milk is still the best alternative. If your baby is on formula, never dilute the mix or water it down in an attempt to make it easier to digest. This just reduces the nutrients from each feed and leaves your child hungry and malnourished. For older children, you can follow a diet consisting of brown rice, bananas, potatoes, boiled vegetables, and lean meats like chicken during the recovery process. The same rules of avoiding oily, spicy and fatty foods apply to children as well.
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine when on a diet for gastroenteritis.

Suggestions for Gastroenteritis

In addition to the use of home remedies and diet modifications it may also be wise to make certain changes to your lifestyle. Hygiene is an important consideration as your already weakened immune system leaves you susceptible to other infections. A relapse or secondary infection could leave you severely weakened. Ensure that high levels are maintained not just in the preparation of food, but also when handling food.


  1. Agustina R, Kok FJ, van de Rest O, Fahmida U, Firmansyah A, Lukito W, et al. Randomized Trial of Probiotics and Calcium on Diarrhea and Respiratory Tract Infections in Indonesian Children. Pediatrics. 2012 May 1;129(5):e1155 –e1164.

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