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Gastroenteritis in Adults and Older Children - Topic Overview

When should you call a doctor?

You can usually take care of gastroenteritis at home.

  • But call911or other emergency services immediately if:
    • You have signs of severe dehydration. These include little or no urine; sunken eyes, no tears, and a dry mouth and tongue; fast breathing and heartbeat; feeling very dizzy or lightheaded; and not feeling or acting alert.
    • You think you may have food poisoning from a canned food and you have symptoms of botulism (blurred or double vision, trouble swallowing or breathing, muscle weakness).
  • Call your doctor immediately if:
    • Severe diarrhea (large amounts of loose stool every 1 to 2 hours) lasts longer than 2 days in an adult.
    • Vomiting lasts longer than 1 day in an adult.
    • You are pregnant and believe that you have been exposed to listeriosis or toxoplasmosis. For more information on toxoplasmosis, see the topic Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy.
    • You have sudden, severe belly pain.
    • Your stools are black and tarry or they have streaks of blood.
  • Talk to your doctor if:
    • You have symptoms of mild dehydration (dry mouth, dark urine, not much urine) that get worse even with home treatment.
    • You have a fever that lasts more than 1 or 2 days.
    • You are not feeling better after 1 week of home treatment.

How can you prevent gastroenteritis?

The best thing you can do to keep from catching gastroenteritis from someone else is to make a habit of washing your hands often. This is especially important after you use the bathroom, after you change a baby's diaper, and before you eat or prepare food.

Don't share personal items like forks and spoons, toothbrushes, and towels. Try not to be around others who have stomach flu. Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes, and mouth.

You can prevent food poisoning by taking steps to make sure your food is not contaminated:

  • Wash cutting boards and countertops often with hot, soapy water. Consider using disinfectant sprays or wipes on your counters.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Do not eat meats, dressings, salads, or other foods that have been kept at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
  • Use a thermometer to check your refrigerator. It should be between 34°F (1.1°C) and 40°F (4.4°C).
  • Defrost meats in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the kitchen counter.
  • Cook meat until it is well done.
  • Do not eat raw eggs or uncooked sauces made with raw eggs.
  • Do not take chances. If food looks or tastes spoiled, throw it out.
  • Be extra careful when you travel. In some countries, you may not want to drink water from the tap (including ice cubes) or eat any raw foods.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 09, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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