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Kirk D. Jacobson, M.D.

Internal Medicine, Diabetes Mellitus

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Rest and hydration go hand in hand for stomach bug recovery

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150303ViralGastroenteritis-smSometimes referred to as "the stomach bug," viral gastroenteritis is more common this time of year. Understanding the symptoms, how to manage them, and the steps you can take to avoid these viruses may help prevent or ease sickness.

Viral gastroenteritis is usually caused by Norovirus or Rotavirus. Both are highly contagious. These viruses are spread by direct contact and by bodily secretions, particularly stool. Rapid-onset symptoms include vomiting, which is frequently accompanied by diarrhea that's almost always watery, but should not be bloody.  Those who come down with viral gastroenteritis may also experience mild fever and cramping abdominal pain, and in some cases headache. The vomiting usually subsides within 12-24 hours and the diarrhea usually clears within three to four days.

When urgent care is needed

Symptoms that signal it's something other than viral gastroenteritis include: bloody diarrhea, fever over 101 degrees, severe abdominal pain, diarrhea lasting more than seven days and lightheadedness that is worsened by standing up. These symptoms require further evaluation and treatment by your primary care provider or urgent care provider.

People at higher risk of complications from viral gastroenteritis are pregnant women, patients over 65, and those with chronic diseases, particularly insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or immune system suppression. Such patients should seek prompt medical care.

Treatment of viral gastroenteritis is primarily supportive

There are no immunizations or direct antiviral agents to treat these viruses. Getting enough fluids is the key to recovery. Once the vomiting has stopped for at least 2 hours, we recommend sips of clear liquids for the first 24 hours and avoidance of milk and milk products for one week. The enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar lactose is usually depleted with gastroenteritis. Therefore, indigestion of milk or milk products sometimes prolongs the diarrhea phase of the illness. Clear liquids are very important for rehydration.

If you are unable to keep fluids down and you become dehydrated, particularly if you experience lightheadedness when standing, rehydration with intravenous fluids may be necessary. Reintroducing food should happen very slowly and carefully. Avoiding milk and milk products, as well as fatty and spicy foods is important. Keep the intake simple.

Surprisingly, antidiarrheal agents are not generally recommended. Drinking clear liquids and putting your "gut to rest" is the best method for stopping the diarrhea. Sometimes, Imodium is recommended if the diarrhea is persistent despite clear liquids and "gut rest."

Preventing viral gastroenteritis

As noted, above, the spread of these very contagious illnesses is by direct contact or by secretions. Excellent hand washing and personal hygiene are the primary ways to prevent the spread of these viruses.

If rehydration cannot be achieved, it's time to contact your primary care provider.





Tagged in: Gastroenteritis

Dedicated to helping others, Dr. Kirk Jacobson has spent 30 years treating adults and children. Board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, he has a special interest in diabetes treatment and education.