What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is a disease where the wall of the stomach or intestine gets inflamed due to various causes leading to vomiting and diarrhea. During this time there is some degree of slowing of absorption of food products through the gut wall (malabsorption). Children, the elderly, and immunocompromised patients are most vulnerable to this. The loss of fluids, electrolytes, and proteins can potentially kill the affected person if it is not attended to in the hospital setting by intravenous replacement.

What causes gastroenteritis?

The common cause of gastroenteritis is the presence of a chemical or bacterial toxin that irritates the lining of the digestive tract leading to a loss of fluids and electrolytes. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

Apart from these causes other things can produce diarrhea and vomiting. Toxins found in mushrooms, garden plants, diseased seafood(clams, fish and mussels), or heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic or cadmium can be problematic. Use of antibiotics for various medical conditions can change the gut flora and give rise to a chronic inflammation of the colon.

Who can develop gastroenteritis?

Everyone is able to develop gastroenteritis with its effects varying from person to person. The development of gastroenteritis depends on prior exposure and personal resistance (determined my a person’s antibody pool). Genetic factors, age, and type of toxin, bacterium, virus, parasite or chemical that caused the condition can also have an impact. Transmission typically occurs from person to person yet it can also occur through animals, water, food, or the fecal-oral route.

What are the signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis.

Generally speaking the patient is feeling sick, often vomiting, and has diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Dehydration sets in fast as the vomiting and diarrhea continues and any fluids by mouth are not kept down. Depending on the underlying cause for the digestive tract disease, there are different typical symptoms, which might become apparent. For example, Typhoid fever causes constipation more often than diarrhea.

With a viral gastroenteritis the onset is usually slower over one or two days, and the diarrhea that ensues is watery without any blood.