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Published on January 26, 2016

Surviving a Bout of Gastroenteritis

January 26, 2016

toddler sleeping on mom's shoulder

Gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the lining of the intestines caused by a virus, bacteria or parasites, is often confused for the “stomach flu” and is also one of the most common reasons for pediatric doctor’s visits. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), in the U.S., most cases—75 to 90 percent—are caused by viruses, typically by rotavirus. Other viruses that cause gastroenteritis are caliciviruses (such as Norovirus, the most common one), adenoviruses and Astrovirus.

What Are the Signs of Gastroenteritis?

The two primary symptoms of gastroenteritis are watery diarrhea and vomiting. Other possible symptoms are headache, fever, chills and abdominal pain. While these symptoms and signs are more identifiable in adults, according to a 2011 study, signs in children are wide-ranging and more difficult to pin down. Symptoms typically appear within 12 to 48 hours after exposure to one of the viruses that cause gastroenteritis and last for 24 to 72 hours.

How Is It Diagnosed and Treated?

Viral gastroenteritis is typically diagnosed based solely on symptoms. Most cases of gastroenteritis are self-limiting and do not require special treatment. Like other viral infections, viral gastroenteritis is not affected by antibiotics. The primary goals of treatment are relieving symptoms and avoiding complications. If symptoms become severe or persist longer than a few days, you should consider visiting a healthcare provider for additional tests.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestion and Kidney Diseases, the following may help reduce symptoms and prevent dehydration in children:

  • Avoid dairy, caffeine, and sugary and/or fatty foods.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, including water, fruit juices, broths and oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Reintroduce food gradually, making sure to start with bland, easily digestible foods.
  • Sip small amounts of clear liquids, such as water, or sucking on ice chips if the child experiences prolonged vomiting.

Is It an Emergency?

A common and dangerous complication associated with gastroenteritis is dehydration. Children are much more susceptible to becoming dehydrated because of their smaller body size, and gastroenteritis can allow sufferers to lose fluids due to vomiting and diarrhea. Because of this, it is very important to know the signs of dehydration so as to treat and/or prevent it from happening. Signs of dehydration in children are different than those in adults, and include: 

  • Dry diapers for three or more hours

  • Dry mouth

  • High fever

  • Hollowed eyes or cheeks

  • No tears when crying

  • Skin’s inability to immediately flatten back to normal after being gently pinched and released

  • Uncommonly grumpy or lethargic behavior

If your child shows signs of severe dehydration, you should seek medical attention immediately. 

Convenient Care at KishHealth System Physician Group, DeKalb see patients of all ages and offers early morning and evening walk in hours that work around your schedule, open Monday - Friday 7 am - 7 pm and Saturdays 8 am - 4 pm. Call 815.217.3252 for more information. 


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