Viral gastroenteritis, also known as the "stomach flu" will not only make you feel awful, it can be potentially serious. In some cases, gastroenteritis can be so serious that it can send a person to the hospital. Even though serious complications are rare, there are some signs to look out for to make sure that it doesn't cause problems.

What is gastroenteritis?

Though gastroenteritis is often called the "stomach flu," it is not related to influenza in any way. The disease causes severe inflammation and irritation of the digestive system. Gastroenteritis comes in two forms: viral and non-viral. The non-viral version is caused by bacteria from poor sanitary conditions or improper handling and storage of food. This form of the disease is not contagious, usually has no associated fever, and often only lasts a day or two. The viral version lasts several days and is often accompanied by high fever and muscle aches that lasts a few days or more. Two viruses, norovirus and rotavirus are the main causes of viral gastroenteritis. It is highly contagious.

What are the symptoms?

A sudden wave of nausea and vomiting are often the first noticeable symptoms. Some people may notice a feeling of malaise a few days before. A fever often follows soon after the vomiting starts. For viral gastroenteritis, muscle aches, headaches, and lethargy can also happen. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it's important that you rest and take fluids. You may find it hard to keep fluids down, so only sip a small amount at a time until you feel better. Symptoms begin to subside after a few days, though you can be contagious for a few days longer.

When should I see a doctor?

For most healthy adults, the disease resolves itself on its own. If you have a very high fever, like that of over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, you can't keep any fluids down for more than a day or have bloody diarrhea, you should contact a primary care physician, like those at Summit View Clinic, right away. Children, especially infants, tend to get dehydrated quicker and may need to see a doctor if they cannot eat or drink anything. If you are still feeling sick and exhausted after a few days, your doctor may prescribe medications.

How can gastroenteritis be prevented?

The best way to prevent the disease is to stay away from those who have it. If that is not possible, be sure to wash your hands, especially before and after you handle food. If someone has been sick in your home, be sure to wash any infected clothes and bedding. Don't share toothbrushes, wash cloths, towels, or eating utensils. Stay home from work and keep children out of school until symptoms are completely gone.

Gastroenteritis is a common stomach ailment that can cause a disruption in the daily routine. It isn't always serious for most people. If you are experiencing the symptoms of the disease and aren't sure what to do, contact your doctor for advice.