Stomach Flu (Gastroenteritis): Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
Stomach flu is also known as Gastroenteritis. Influenza, a respiratory virus that causes the flu, is not responsible for stomach flu. It is the different germs present in the stomach that are usually responsible for symptoms like diarrhea and pain.
Doctors at Yashoda Hospital & Research Centre, Nehru Nagar, Ghaziabad, are always dedicated and committed to provide you with the best care and support throughout the journey of your treatment. They believe in sharing the right information with you about various illnesses. This blog will help you know more about Stomach Flu, its causes, signs, symptoms, and treatment.
What is stomach flu (gastroenteritis)?
The inflammation or irritation of the intestines is called gastroenteritis. It not only involves stomach pain but also may involve pain in the colon and small intestines’ area. The most common cause of stomach flu is virus.
Who gets stomach flu (Gastroenteritis)?
You are more at risk of getting a stomach flu if you are in a place where you have to share your living or dining spaces with lots of people, such as:
- Nursing homes
- Children in daycare or camps
- Cruise-ship passengers
- Military personnel
- Anyone with an immune-compromised state
- Students living in dormitories
- Psychiatric wards
- Travelers to less-developed countries
What are the causes of stomach flu (gastroenteritis)?
One of the most common causes of a stomach flu is virus. You may also get sick from parasites, bacteria, and toxins. Norovirus causes stomach flu in adults while rotavirus is the reason behind stomach flu in children. The lining of the small intestine is generally affected by these viruses.
What are the symptoms of stomach flu (gastroenteritis)?
Diarrhea is one of the main symptoms of gastroenteritis. It is caused by the multiple activities of the virus when the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract gets infected during gastroenteritis. The destruction of the gut cells, known as enterocytes, causes malabsorption. The virus may also hinder the reabsorption of water resulting in secretory diarrhea, which is responsible for the loose liquid stools. Some of the other symptoms of stomach flu include:
- Headache and body ache
- Pain or cramping in the abdominal region
What may be the adverse impacts of stomach flu (gastroenteritis)?
Generally, recovery from stomach flu is quick in most of the cases. However, babies, young children, older adults, or persons who are in an immune-compromised state have the chance of developing symptoms that may be worse. Dehydration may be caused due to vomiting and diarrhea in a short period. Some of the signs of dehydration include:
- Extreme thirst
- Sunken cheeks or eyes
- No wet diapers for three hours or more in infants and less outflow of urine than usual
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Urine that is darker in color
Why does stomach flu (gastroenteritis) develop at night?
In a few cases, the symptoms of stomach flu may be more enhanced at night due to circadian rhythm. At night, infection-fighting chemicals may be released due to an increase in the immune system activity, thus, resulting in inflammation that may make you feel uncomfortable.
Is stomach flu (gastroenteritis) spreadable?
Viral stomach flu spreads to others easily. Although stomach flu may develop at any time of the year, the common norovirus is more prevalent from November to April when people are indoors. You may encounter different types of gastroenteritis throughout your life as a variety of viruses can cause stomach flu. Stomach flu may spread from one person to another if you come into contact with minute, invisible particles from a sick person’s stool or vomit. Some of the ways you may encounter stomach flu include:
- Touching the food or mouth after you have touched a surface and come into contact with the germs
- Eating or drinking food or beverages that have a sick person’s germs
- Close contact with someone who has stomach flu
When should you consult a doctor for stomach flu (gastroenteritis)?
Generally, a stomach flu gets cured without seeing a doctor. However, the doctors at Yashoda Hospital & Research Centre, Nehru Nagar, Ghaziabad, advise you to consult a doctor immediately when you have signs of dehydration. They also advise you to consult a doctor when you have any of the following symptoms:
- High fever
- Severe pain
- Bloody diarrhea
- Symptoms that are not improving or resolving over time
What is the diagnostic procedure for stomach flu (gastroenteritis)?
The doctors may determine stomach flu from the symptoms you have. However, to get sure, they may perform certain tests such as:
- Stool samples: This test is done to find if there is any presence of bacteria, viruses, or parasites in the stool.
- Sigmoidoscopy: It is a 15-minute procedure that does not need sedation. In this, a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera is inserted from the anus into the lower large intestine to look for signs of inflammatory bowel disease.
How is stomach flu (gastroenteritis) treated?
You must rest and stay well hydrated as a lot of water and electrolytes are lost by the body due to diarrhea and vomiting. You may also take small but frequent sips of water, sports drinks, juice, or both, if your belly is upset. Water alone may not be sufficient to keep you hydrated in extreme cases of diarrhea, so you must take electrolyte-balanced hydration, such as Gatorade and Pedialyte. When you feel hungry, eat normal diet.
How can stomach flu (gastroenteritis) be prevented?
A stomach flu can be caused by multiple factors and only getting the flu vaccination does not mean you will be safe from gastroenteritis. Children must get the rotavirus vaccination when they are asked to as this will protect the child from falling ill from the rotavirus but not all children can be allowed to receive this oral vaccination. You must consult the pediatrician before letting your child receive the rotavirus vaccination. Some of the steps you may practice to reduce the risk of getting stomach flu include:
- You must practice good hand washing- Good hand washing is very important in stopping the spread of viruses as these viruses may spread from anything that comes in contact with the virus-infected feces. Viruses that are left on your hands can easily spread to people, food, and surfaces touched by you.
- Be careful with food- Avoid the use of contaminated water and food. Clean the surfaces of the kitchen with a good disinfectant as this will help in killing germs and keeping the virus away. You must keep raw meat, eggs, and poultry away from foods that are eaten raw. You must also avoid eating raw or undercooked meat, eggs, and shellfish and consume only pasteurized dairy products and apple juice. You must rinse fruits and vegetables before eating and drink bottled water. You may get sick from unfamiliar germs that live in water.
- Clean sick areas- You must clean any area that you may have touched while you had stomach flu. You must clean the areas, where a sick person has vomited or had diarrhea, with a disinfectant.
How long does stomach flu (gastroenteritis) last?
Gastroenteritis usually lasts less than a week but you must stay at home if you have any symptoms. Even if you have stopped having symptoms, you must be careful with your bathroom habits as the virus may still be present in your stool for up to two weeks. You must clean and wash your hands properly and regularly.
What can you do at home to feel comfortable?
You must take rest and drink lots of water until the symptoms pass. Drinks that contain both sugar and salt help the intestine absorb fluids better and replace the lost electrolytes. You may avoid dairy products such as cow’s milk for a day or two because the milk can make the diarrhea worse due to lactose intolerance that arises with gastroenteritis.
The doctor may recommend you to use an over-the-counter medication such as bismuth subsalicylate to control severe diarrhea but in case, you have a high fever or bloody diarrhea, you must avoid using such medication. Antidiarrheal medications must also not be given to children as they are not safe for them; instead, you must consult a doctor for the treatment.
Need to consult a doctor or specialist for stomach flu (gastroenteritis)?
The Centre for Digestive and Liver Disease at Yashoda Hospital & Research Centre, Nehru Nagar, Ghaziabad, has a team of doctors who are well-experienced and highly qualified. With technologically advanced machines and procedures, the hospital provides you with the best facility you require for treatment.
Dr. Prof. (Brig.) Atul Kumar Sood, VSM is a distinguished Gastroenterologist with over three decades of experience. An alumnus of the Armed Forces Medical College and recipient of the Vishisht Seva Medal in 2020, he excels in Endoscopy, Cholangioscopy, EUS, and ERCP, having performed 30,000+ procedures. His expertise and compassion ensures world-class patient care.
Dr. Manjeet Bhati is the best gastroenterologist in Ghaziabad. He specialises in stomach and gastrointestinal issues. Proficient in Endoscopy, ERCP, EUS, and spiral enteroscopy, he serves as a consultant at Yashoda Hospital & Research Centre, Nehru Nagar, Ghaziabad.