Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)

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Definition of gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis (often referred to as the "stomach flu," however, it is not related to the influenza virus) is a nonspecific term for various problems in the gastrointestinal tract with the most common symptoms and signs of diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pains.

As previously mentioned, although it is not caused by influenza viruses, it is commonly referred to as the "stomach flu" because most people have acute symptoms that last a day or so, and then begin to resolve, like the more benign flu strains. In the U.S., less than 2% of the estimated 100 million persons with symptoms per year ever require hospitalization, but in developing countries it is a leading cause of death, mainly due to dehydration. Severe gastroenteritis can cause dehydration. Also, people with symptoms of diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, fever greater than 101 F (38.33 C) for longer than 5 days, or have severe infection (sepsis), and other problems will be considered to have another disease (for example, shigellosis). Not all doctors agree on the nonspecific term of gastroenteritis so for this article, the parameters are presented.

What causes gastroenteritis?

Infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses are the most frequent causes of gastroenteritis in the US and worldwide. Infections cause diarrhea and other symptoms by causing inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tissue. The infections increase the fluid content in the intestines and colon by changing the gastrointestinal tract's ability to absorb water and by increasing the speed of transit (motility) for things you ingest. This, in turn, causes diarrhea. Infectious agents may physically damage intestinal cells directly or indirectly with secreted toxins.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/31/2013

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Gastroenteritis - Symptoms Question: What symptoms did you have with gastroenteritis (stomach flu)?
Gastroenteritis - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with gastroenteritis (stomach flu).
Gastroenteritis - Cause Question: Do you know what virus, bacteria, or parasite caused your case of gastroenteritis (cruise ship, traveling by plane, traveling to another country, from a family member or friend?)
Gastroenteritis - Treatment Question: What treatments were effective for your case of gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis - Call for Medical Help Question: Did you have to call your doctor to treat your case of gastroenteritis? What did our doctor prescribe and what tests did he/she order to determine the cause of gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis - Complications Question: Please describe the complications you suffered due to gastroenteritis.
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Gastroenteritis Diet

The BRAT Diet

The BRAT diet is one type of bland diet that doctors sometimes recommended for people who are recovering from a gastrointestinal infection such as gastroenteritis or other causes of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach upset. It also helps some women who are suffering from morning sickness during pregnancy. BRAT is an acronym that stands for:

  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Applesauce
  • Toast

The BRAT diet is based upon the fact that these foods are easy to digest and are well tolerated by most people. The BRAT diet is not a weight loss regimen and is not intended to be used over the long term. It is low in protein, fat, and fiber so it is not ideal from a nutritional standpoint for long term use. The low-fiber nature of the diet can help make loose stools firmer, and the bananas provide a needed source of potassium.

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