Symptoms of gastroenteritis
People often use the term "stomach flu" to describe a viral illness where vomiting or diarrhea are the main symptoms. In fact, viral gastroenteritis attacks the intestines. Symptoms usually are manifest anywhere from 12 to72 hours after exposure, and can last from 24 to48 hours. The duration can be as long as 72 to 84 hours in older persons or in those with weakened immune systems. A person infected by gastroenteritis may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
Gastroenteritis symptoms are mostly uncomfortable, but not dangerous in a normal healthy adult. However, prolonged periods of vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and a body chemistry imbalance. Furthermore, people diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, kidney problems or other chronic diseases may be at additional risk for complications from gastroenteritis.
Dehydration – Dehydration is the most common complication associated with gastroenteritis and involves severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals in the body. In severe cases, dehydration can be fatal. Healthy adults and people who drink enough to replace fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhea will not have problems with dehydration. But infants, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems may become severely dehydrated when they lose more fluids than they can replace. In this case, hospitalization and intravenous fluids may be required.
When to seek help
Anyone who suspects they may have been exposed to a virus from a place where groups of people gather or by foods prepared outside the home should contact the local health department to track a possible gastroenteritis outbreaks. Additionally, adults should call a doctor when they are:
Contact a doctor right away if a child seems dehydrated — compare how much they drink and urinate with what is normal for them. Remember, spitting up is normal for infants but vomiting is not. Babies vomit for a variety of reasons, many of which may require medical attention. Additionally, call a doctor if a baby exhibits any of the following symptoms:
Because the symptoms of gastroenteritis can lead to complications, you need to consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. But where does diagnosis begin? And which doctor should you see first? Read here to learn how to diagnose gastroenteritis in our Diagnosing Gastroenteritis section now.
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