Treating Gastroenteritis

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Gastroenteritis is a common illness that can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Gastroenteritis is not usually serious but it can make you very dehydrated and is easily spread. Milder forms can be managed by staying at home, drinking plenty of fluids and trying to get as must rest as possible.

Gastroenteritis is an illness affecting your stomach and intestines.

Gastroenteritis can be caused by a number of things including:

  • viruses (such as rotavirus or norovirus infections);
  • bacteria (including salmonella);
  • toxins produced by bacteria;
  • parasites (such as giardia); and
  • chemicals (such as toxins from poisonous mushrooms).

Gastroenteritis should only last a few days and usually does not require medication. Staying well hydrated and drinking plenty of fluids is very important to dealing with gastroenteritis.

Gastroenteritis is easily spread contact with an infected person or via contaminated food or water. To reduce the risk of catching or spreading it, wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing nappies, and before preparing or eating food.

If you have Gastroenteritis it’s best to stay home (away from work, school or University) until the symptoms have been gone for at least 24 hours.

Symptoms of gastroenteritis may include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, stomach pains, fever and headaches.

The best way to treat gastroenteritis is by drinking plenty of fluids. Frequent sips are easier for young children than a large amount all at once. Keep drinking regularly even if you are vomiting. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate to combat the loss of fluid from your body.

There's not always a specific treatment, so you have to let the illness run its course.

You don't usually need to get medical advice, unless your symptoms don't improve or there's a risk of a more serious problem.


To help ease your symptoms try the following:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration –You need to drink more than usual to replace the fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhoea. Water is best, but you could also try fruit juice and soup.
  • Take paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • If you feel like eating, try small amounts of plain foods, such as soup, rice, pasta and bread.
  • Use special rehydration drinks made from sachets bought from pharmacies if you have signs of dehydration such as a dry mouth or dark urine.
  • Take anti-vomiting medication (such as metoclopramide) and/or antidiarrhoeal medication (such as loperamide) if you need to – some types are available from pharmacies, but check the leaflet that comes with the medicine. You can also ask your pharmacist or GP for advice about whether they're suitable. 


When to get medical advice

Get medical advice or visit your local doctor or emergency room if:

  • you have symptoms of severe dyhdration, such as such as persistent dizziness, only passing small amounts of urine or no urine at all, or if you're losing consciousness
  • you have bloody diarrhoea
  • you're vomiting constantly and are unable to keep down any fluids
  • you have a fever over 38C (100.4F)
  • your symptoms haven't started to improve after a few days
  • in the last few weeks you've returned from a part of the world with poor sanitation
  • you have a serious underlying condition, such as kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease or a weak immune system, and have diarrhoea and vomiting


Looking after a child with gastroenteritis

You can look after your child at home if they have diarrhoea and vomiting. There's not usually any specific treatment and your child should start feeling better in a few days.

If their symptoms don't improve or there's a risk of a more serious problem please see your local doctor as soon as possible.

To help ease your child's symptoms try the following:

  • Encourage them to drink plenty of fluids. They need to replace the fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhoea. Water is generally best. Avoid giving them fizzy drinks or fruit juice, as they can make their diarrhoea worse. Babies should continue to feed as usual, either with breast milk or other milk feeds.
  • Make sure they get plenty of rest.
  • Let your child eat if they're eating solids and feel hungry. Try small amounts of plain foods, such as soup, rice, pasta and bread.
  • Give them paracetamol if they have an uncomfortable fever or aches and pains. Young children may find liquid paracetamol easier to swallow than tablets.
  • Use special rehydration drinks made from sachets bought from pharmacies if they're dehydrated. Your GP or pharmacist can advise on how much to give your child. Don't give them antidiarrhoeal and anti-vomiting medication, unless advised to by your GP or pharmacist. If your child has difficulty in accepting or drinking this fluid the alternative is to dilute fruit juice in water - one part juice to four parts of water.

Please ensure you avoid milk and other dairy products for your child while they are experiencing gastroenteritis. The best way to approach young babies is to continue milk feeds throughout the illness, with rehydration fluid between feeds.

If a baby or young child has gastroenteritis, it’s advisable that they be checked by your local GP. 

Make sure you and your child wash your hands regularly while your child is ill and keep them away from school or nursery until at least 48 hours after their symptoms have cleared

If you don’t feel as through your recovering from gastroenteritis we recommend you see your local doctor as soon as possible, or alternatively present yourself to your nearest hospital’s emergency room.


Preventing gastroenteritis

Following the advice below can help stop its spread:

  • Stay off work, school or nursery until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have passed. You or your child should also avoid visiting anyone in hospital during this time.
  • Ensure you and your child wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet and before preparing food. Don't rely on alcohol hand gels, as they're not always effective.
  • Disinfect any surfaces or objects that could be contaminated. It's best to use a bleach-based household cleaner.
  • Wash contaminated items of clothing or bedding separately on a hot wash.
  • Don't share towels, flannels, cutlery or utensils while you or your child is ill.
  • Flush away any poo or vomit in the toilet or potty and clean the surrounding area.
  • Practice good food hygiene. Make sure food is properly refrigerated, always cook your food thoroughly, and never eat food that is past its use-by date.

Take extra care when travelling to parts of the world with poor sanitation, as you could pick up a stomach bug.