Gastroenteritis may affect both the stomach and the intestines, resulting in one or more of the following symptoms:
- Common symptoms
- Low grade fever (99°F)
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Mild-to-moderate diarrhea: May range from 2-4 loose stools per day for adolescents and adults to stools that run out of the diaper in infants.
- Crampy painful bloating
- Vomiting: May or may not accompany diarrhea. If you do vomit, your dehydration rate will increase. Either together or alone, diarrhea and vomiting result not only in loss of significant amounts of fluid, leading to dehydration and possibly shock, but also loss of potassium, sodium, and bicarbonate.
- More serious symptoms
- Blood in vomit or stool
- Vomiting more than 48 hours
- Fever higher than 101°F
- Swollen abdomen or abdominal pain coming from the right lower side
- Dehydration - Little to no urination, extreme thirst, lack of tears, and dry mouth (dry diapers in infants)
When to Seek Medical Care
If you or someone appears weak and dizzy while standing, dehydration is possible. If you cannot drink fluids, but continue to lose fluids through fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, you should call your doctor. If you appear sleepy or unaware, you should definitely be taken to a doctor or hospital's emergency department.
- If you have any questions or uncertainty, call or see your doctor.
- If you have any of the following symptoms, go to a hospital's Emergency Department:
- Blood in the vomit or stool
- Vomiting that lasts more than 48 hours
- Fever higher than 101°F
- Swollen abdomen or abdominal pain in the right lower part of the abdomen
- Dehydration (check for little to no urination, extreme thirst, lack of tears, and dry mouth)
Exams and Tests
Symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting often indicate gastroenteritis. Finding the cause is another matter. If others around you have similar symptoms, you may be able to trace the illness to a food source or foreign travel.
A doctor first will determine if your symptoms are acute (lasting less than 2 weeks) or chronic (longer lasting).
- A long-lasting illness suggests an inflammation or immune disorder, which should be checked after infection has been ruled out.
- Sudden onset of illness may indicate changes in diet or medication. Rapidly developing fever, abdominal pain, bloody stool and presence of white blood cells (leukocytes) may mean an inflammation or diarrhea caused by bacteria. Watery stools without blood or leukocytes are more typical of viral- or toxin-induced diarrhea.
You will be asked if other family or friends have similar exposure or symptoms. The doctor will want to know about the duration, frequency, and description of your bowel movements and whether you are vomiting. You will be asked how often and the amount you are urinating to help the doctor determine if your fluid loss is causing dehydration. Have you lost any weight?
- You will be given a physical exam to find any specific or localized tenderness in your abdomen. The doctor will want to determine if you have appendicitis, inflammation of the gallbladder or pancreas, or other noninfectious gastrointestinal disease. The doctor also will feel your abdomen for masses and possibly your rectum.
- The doctor may perform other lab tests, checking your electrolytes, blood, and stool. The doctor may examine a stool sample for blood, mucus, or abnormal odor. The sample may be inspected under a microscopic to look for parasites and their eggs.
- The doctor also will take your medical history including the following:
- Travel history: Travel (especially to Mexico) may suggest E coli bacteria or other infection from a parasite in something you ate or drank.
- Exposure to poisons or other irritants: Swimming in contaminated water or drinking from suspicious fresh water such as mountain streams or wells may indicate infection from Giardia-an organism in the water that causes diarrhea.
- Diet change, food preparation habits and storage: When the disease occurs following exposure to undercooked, improperly stored or prepared food such as potato salad at a picnic, food poisoning must be considered. In general, symptoms caused by bacteria or their toxins will become apparent after the following amount of time:
- Staphylococcus aureus in 3-6 hours
- Clostridium 8-10 hours
- Salmonella in 12-72 hours
- Medications: If you have used broad-spectrum or multiple antibiotics recently, you may have antibiotic-associated irritation.