Gastroenteritis is an infection of your stomach and bowel (gut) causing vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. It’s sometimes called a stomach bug.
Around one in five adults gets gastroenteritis each year. Many germs (bacteria, viruses or other parasites) can cause gastroenteritis, though it’s most often due to a virus or bacterial food poisoning.
Viral gastroenteritis, also known as a stomach flu or a stomach virus, is commonly due to viruses called norovirus, rotavirus or adenovirus.
Common examples of bacteria that can infect food include:
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Usually, gastroenteritis symptoms are quite mild and can be managed at home. However, you should see a GP if you have diarrhoea for more than seven days or are vomiting for more than two.
You should also seek medical advice if:
If you need to see a GP, they’ll ask you about:
They may check you for signs of dehydration, take your temperature, pulse and blood pressure, and examine your abdomen.
If you have severe gastroenteritis, you’ve travelled abroad or you have blood in your stool or vomit, a stool sample will be taken and analysed to look for the specific cause.
Viruses are spread easily between people by:
Food poisoning can be due to:
In countries with poor sanitation, water may also be infected with bacteria or other germs.
Most of the time, gastroenteritis can be managed at home by:
Although symptoms may be unpleasant, you should be back to normal within a few days.
If your symptoms are severe and you need to see your GP, they may recommend a course of antibiotics if a stool sample analysis has confirmed a bacterial infection.
If you become severely dehydrated, you may need to be admitted to hospital so you can be given fluids through an intravenous (IV) saline solution or a tube through the nose.