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How is gastroenteritis diagnosed?
Gastroenteritis is most often presumptively diagnosed by the symptom(s) it produces (mainly diarrhea). Because gastroenteritis is usually a self-limited disease, the large majority of people are never seen or diagnosed by a doctor. There are no specific tests for gastroenteritis. However, during outbreaks like those seen on cruise ships, viral and bacterial cultures or PCR and other immunologically-based tests can eventually identify the causative pathogen. By the time this identification occurs, most of the patients with gastroenteritis have begun to recover. When gastroenteritis symptoms become severe, most public health officials and health care professionals run such tests to identify the causative agent of a specific disease, based on all of the patient's history, physical exam, and symptoms. In addition, patients with similar histories of recent food or drink they had in common with others often helps to discover the source of the disease (for example, people who got diarrhea had salads from the same food provider).