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The Truth About Stomach Flu

It’s not really the flu, but gastroenteritis.

Gastroenteritis Treatment: Do It Yourself

The good news, Solnick says, is that most cases of gastroenteritis go away on their own, especially if caused by a virus.

For nausea and vomiting, Burkhart recommends you stick to the so-called convalescence diet: clear liquids. Also, consider oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte. "They have a balance of salts and sugars," he says. Forget sports drinks, Burkhart says. Some have too much salt or too many carbs.

"The big thing is avoiding dehydration with gastroenteritis," says Jason Dees, DO, a family physician in New Albany, Miss., and a member of the board of director of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Time can help. "The nice thing about the GI tact is, most of the time the body is able to care for it," Dees says. "The body is trying to wash out the infection or irritation and return your GI tract to its happy state. When it's trying to do that, you have to be nice to your body and give it hydration to do that."

He advises avoiding anti-diarrheals to give the body time to heal itself.

Gastroenteritis Treatment: Medical Help

If you are not able to drink fluids, and keep vomiting or having diarrhea, seek medical help. Watch for these symptoms, which warrant immediate medical attention:

  • Sleepiness or fatigue
  • Blood in the stool or in the vomit
  • Vomiting that continues for more than 48 hours
  • Fever higher than 101 degrees F.
  • Abdominal pain in the lower right part of the abdomen, or abdominal swelling.
  • Dehydration, marked by little to no urination, extreme thirst, dry mouth, and lack of tear production.

"The younger the patient, the quicker the evaluation," Burkhart says.

Typically, the worst of the gastroenteritis symptoms are over in a day or two, Burkhart says. "Most of the vomiting and diarrhea is the worst for the first 24 to 48 hours," he says. ''Usually, within three to five days the symptoms are pretty much gone, depending on the severity and the causative agent."

Gastroenteritis: What Your Doctor Will Do

Your doctor will take a careful history, including asking you questions about what you have eaten. You'll be asked to describe your symptoms and how long you’ve had the symptoms.

If the dehydration is severe, you may be given fluids intravenously.

Don't expect an antibiotic until the bacteria has been identified. Antibiotics are given for certain bacteria, such as Shigella, but can worsen infections caused by other problems.

Your doctor may also give medications called antiemetics to stop vomiting.

In general, doctors avoid giving antidiarrheal medicine if they suspect the infection is caused by a toxin.

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Reviewed on August 28, 2009

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