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Gastroenteritis: An overview of treatment considerations

Digestion | July 4, 2014 | Author: The Super Pharmacist

gastro, diarrhoea, Digestion

Gastroenteritis: An overview of treatment considerations

Gastroenteritis, which is more commonly known as gastro, is caused by an inflammation or infection in the digestive system, particularly in the lining of the intestines. Each year, close to five to ten million people from all over the globe die from gastroenteritis, primarily young children living in countries that are underdeveloped. Most gastro deaths are related to circulatory collapse, inadequate fluid replacement and dehydration. Occasionally, a fatality still happens in Australia caused by the complications of severe dehydration associated with gastroenteritis. Every year, approximately five thousand cases are seen at the Royal Children’s Hospital of Melbourne. Of those cases, close to five hundred will require admission into the hospital. Many more cases of treatment take place elsewhere in this country, in addition to an unknown number that do not require medical attention.

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis

Depending on the toxin or germ that causes the infection, it can take some time for symptoms of gastroenteritis to appear. Generally, the symptoms will start one to two days following exposure. However, in some cases, symptoms have become noticeable in as little as one hour, such as with the staphylococcal toxin. In other cases, it has taken as long as two months for symptoms to appear.

Symptoms of GastroenteritisThese symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Bloating
  • Chills
  • Clammy skin
  • Diarrhoea, which may contain traces of blood or pus
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever, 37.7°C or higher
  • A general feeling of unwell, such as body aches and fatigue
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Stiff joints
  • Vomiting

The most prominent symptoms of gastroenteritis are abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting with a low-grade fever. The symptoms of severe cases are the presence of blood in the stool or vomit, vomiting that lasts more than forty-eight hours, a fever that is higher than 40°C, abdominal swelling and dehydration. If any of these symptoms occur, especially in infants and young children, urgent medical attention should be sought.

Causes of Gastroenteritis

Bacterial, parasitic and viral infections can lead to gastroenteritis. However, the most common are bacteria and viruses.

Known causes of the illness include:

  • Bacteria – Campylobacter bacterium
  • Bacterial toxins – staphylococcal bacteria produced toxins
  • Chemicals – lead poisoning
  • Medications – antibiotics
  • Parasites – Cryptosporidium, Entamoeba histolytica and Giardia lamblia
  • Viruses – adenovirus, astrovirus, calicivirus, norovirus and rotovirus

The bacteria and germs that cause gastroenteritis can be found in animals, food, soil and water, in addition to being transferred by humans. Actions that can lead to exposure include:

  • Contact with the vomit or faeces of an infected person, either directly or indirectly
  • Eating or drinking contaminated substances
  • Handling animals, including pets, farm animals and wild animals
  • Swimming in contaminated water

Treatment of Gastroenteritis

In most cases, gastroenteritis will go away on its own over the course of a few days. However, the associated diarrhoea can last for several more days. The exact treatment for gastroenteritis will depend on the cause of the illness, but may include:

Treatment of Gastroenteritis‚ÄčIntake of plenty of fluids 

Oral rehydration drinks

Intravenous fluid replacement for severe cases.

Antibiotics for cases caused by bacteria, such as Erythromycin or Ciprofloxacin

Anti-parasitic drugs for cases caused by parasites

It is important to avoid taking any anti-diarrhoea or anti-vomiting medications unless directed to do so by a doctor. The reason for this is that such medications can actually cause the infection to remain within the body for a prolonged amount of time, leading to serious complications.

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