This factsheet is for people who have gastroenteritis, or who would like information about it.
Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach or bowels caused by an infection, and can lead to symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting.
Read below for more information about gastroenteritis.
Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, September 2010.
Diarrhoeal disease caused by gastroenteritis is the second leading cause of death in children under five worldwide. Globally, there are about two billion cases every year. Gastroenteritis can affect anyone, but it's more common in babies and young children. If you have gastroenteritis, it generally goes without you needing medical treatment. However, if a baby or a young child has gastroenteritis it can be more dangerous because he or she becomes dehydrated more easily.
Your stomach and bowels are known collectively as your gastrointestinal tract - or gut. Gastroenteritis is an infection of your gut. You can get an infection by eating or drinking food that is contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites, or from other people with an infection. Bacteria, viruses and parasites can damage the cells lining the inner surface of your gut and stop it working as it should.
Certain bacteria or viruses may also produce poisons called toxins that can irritate your gut and cause it to produce excess fluid. This can cause the symptoms of gastroenteritis, such as diarrhoea.
Complications of gastroenteritis
Complications from gastroenteritis occur mainly in young children or in adults who are over the age of 65, have had gastroenteritis for a long time, or who have a weakened immune system.
Possible complications of gastroenteritis include:
- dehydration – this can be life-threatening if severe
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which may develop later on
See a doctor if you or your child:
- have severe pain or pain that doesn't respond to over-the-counter painkillers
- have vomiting or diarrhoea that continues for more than a few days, or you can't drink or eat without being sick
- have blood or mucus in your diarrhoea
- have signs of dehydration, including a very dry mouth, muscle cramps, reduced urine, sunken eyes and, later, confusion or irritability
- have recently travelled to another country or area
- can't take medicines you usually take for other conditions without being sick