Gastroenteritis in adults 

Introduction 

Norovirus

Find out what norovirus is, how to reduce your risk of getting it and what to do if you have it.

Media last reviewed: 19/11/2012

Next review due: 19/11/2014

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Gastroenteritis is a common condition where the stomach and intestines become inflamed. It is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection.

The two main symptoms of gastroenteritis are diarrhoea and vomiting.

Read more about the symptoms of gastroenteritis.

What causes gastroenteritis?

In the UK, the two most common causes of gastroenteritis in adults are the norovirus and food poisoning (most often caused by salmonella or campylobacter bacteria).

These infections can interfere with the absorption of water and salts from the contents of your intestines into the body, which is why the most common symptom of gastroenteritis is watery diarrhoea and why there is a risk of dehydration.

Gastroenteritis can also have a number of other causes, including a rotavirus infection, although this is more common in children. Read more about gastroenteritis in children.

Seeing your GP

There's usually no need to see your GP if you have gastroenteritis because the symptoms are normally shortlived.

If your symptoms are severe or last longer than a few days, your GP may ask for a stool sample so that it can be checked for a specific bacterium or parasite. If a bacterium or parasite is identified, appropriate medication can be prescribed to treat the infection.

In some cases, blood tests and urine tests may be used to rule out other conditions.

Treating gastroenteritis

Most people don't need any specific treatment for gastroenteritis, but it's important to make sure you drink plenty of fluids to reduce your risk of dehydration.

An oral rehydration solution can be used by people who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of dehydration, such as elderly people or those with another existing condition.

Medications to treat the symptoms of gastroenteritis are not usually necessary, but they may be recommended if your diarrhoea or vomiting is particularly severe.

If there is a risk of you becoming significantly dehydrated, you may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment. This is because severe dehydration can be very serious and even potentially fatal in rare cases.

Read more about treating gastroenteritis.

Preventing gastroenteritis

As gastroenteritis is highly infectious, it is important to take steps to prevent it spreading to other people. These include:

  • washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water or an antibacterial hand wash after going to the toilet and before eating or preparing food
  • cleaning the toilet, including the handle and the seat, with disinfectant after each bout of vomiting or diarrhoea
  • not sharing towels, flannels, cutlery or utensils with other members of your household
  • not returning to work until you have had no symptoms for at least 48 hours

If you are frail, or have an underlying condition affecting your intestines or immune system, it may be useful to seek advice from your GP or a specialist before travelling to an area where there is a risk of picking up a gastrointestinal infection.

Read more about preventing gastroenteritis.

Page last reviewed: 31/03/2014

Next review due: 31/03/2016

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Comments

The 10 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

zadie22 said on 24 September 2014

I've been suffering with gastroenteritis for over month now. Its the most annoying thing ever. I love food and now I feel like I can't even eat out or anything like that because of the pain afterwards. I been told that coffee is the worst thing to drink so I obviously had to try this out and.. they were right don't do it. I've never had anything like this that has gone on for so long and it literally wipes you out. I hate having to take painkillers and totally relying on anitbiotics.

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Nyma Ali said on 08 May 2014

Can people die from gastroenteritis? Because I'm only a teenager and I have gastroenteritis... They say to prevent it is to be clean but I'm a clean freak...

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survivor84 said on 27 February 2013

Hi, I wonder if anyone could help.. I had Gastroenteritis at the beginning of the new year and unfortunately late last Sunday week went down with it again. So far I've been off from work over a week and a half now and remain on a gp fitness note until Monday. I do suffer from a Diverticular Disease and CFS but was wondering whether there was anything I could do to fasten up the recovery process? Obviously I'm concerned that I've already had a lot of time off over the past yearand don't want anymore due to this. Many thanks.

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sunbeampannotia said on 08 February 2013

I am down with it at the moment. Started with vomiting & severe lower abdominal pain 12 hours plater diarrhoea has started. Drinking loads of water even if its regurgitated doc gave me anti sickness tabs and haven't vomited for 2 hours!! Trying a slice of dry toast & marmite. Hope it's only a mild bout. Was going to a dinner & dance tomorrow but that's out the window!!! Never mind...... Could be worse.....sympathy with you fellow sufferers :)

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jamesAFC said on 08 October 2012

anyone help please about 3 weeks ago i came over all lightheaded felt like i wanted to be sick but nothing comeing up . after that to this date i get lightheded start burpin that makes me wona be sick. ache feelin in my lower right stumach. diarrhea that is ok ish at min . i have had a full blood count thats is ok apart from my biliruben been 34.5 . been docs and AE been told mite be gallstone then told mite be gastroentertis . now im just worrying what is wrong with me and it dont help as my dad past away on the 23rd of lung cancer. if any one can help be realy greatfull.

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LauraHunni12 said on 31 July 2012

I finally managed to get some tests done, and I was in fact diagnosed with a gastro-intestinal tract infection, and I was given antibiotics. I reacted really badly to them, and went back to the doctors after being told to go to see them if I was having serious side-effects. Apparently there's no other way to cure it. But they've never even said what type of gastro-intestinal tract infection I have.

I've been eating a lot better, but I've still lost a bit of weight.

I had to tell the doctors that I doubted it was Gastroenteritis otherwise it would have gone by now.

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Eastie said on 27 July 2012

Hi everyone - I can really sympathise with Laura and Mandy's daughter. I'm going through the same thing myself at the moment. I've had Gastroenteritis for 2 weeks and I've lost a stone. I have had to be off work due to daily diarrhea and cramps in my digestive area.
The Doc says it's Gastroenteritis but I think that is a rather vague 'catch-all' term. Obviously my stomach and small intestine are infected, but by what cause?

If it was a bug or food poisoning, then it would surely have disappeared by now. Like Laura, I can't eat - I do force myself to eat some cream crackers and veg soup. Anything else makes me extremely nauseous (within 1-2hours) and I'm either sick, have violent diarrhea, or both. I've had bad heartburn and acid reflux since the vomiting passed. I don't mean to moan - it's just, I'm confused.

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rosexelex said on 13 June 2012

Cure yourself by eating some Marmite, wholemeal bread and green vegetables as your system is deficient in the Vit B12 and cannot repair itself because the constant diarrhoea is preventing proper digestion and absorption of eseential nutrients.

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mandycharlizo said on 25 April 2012

Hi Laura, how do you feel now? My 14 year old daughter has been ill for the last 5 weeks, she has been told its gastroenteritis but i am like you, cannot understand why they don't do tests. She is still suffering from stomach cramps and nausea and wishes it would go away.

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LauraHunni12 said on 10 April 2012

This is funny. It says that hygiene is the best way to prevent it - not that it helped, I contracted it by being in the same room as someone who had it!

Also, I've had Gastroenteritis symptoms for nearly nine weeks now, minus the vomiting and diarrhea. The doctors won't run any tests on me despite it being an ongoing problem, and the weight has literally dropped off, seeing as though I barely have an appetite now.

It's better now than when it started, but the symptoms are still there. Why aren't I being tested?

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