What is Gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis refers to an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach as well as the small and large intestines. Gastroenteritis has also been referred to as the ‘stomach flu’ and/or ‘gastric flu’, even though this condition is unrelated to influenza. Certain toxins, parasites or even adverse reactions to diet or medication have been known to cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
There are two types of gastroenteritis, viral and bacterial. Viral gastroenteritis is caused by a virus in the body and bacterial gastroenteritis is transferred by contact with contaminated food and water, which house bacteria.
As the name suggests, gastroenteritis affects the stomach and intestines and usually lasts about 1 – 6 days. While gastroenteritis is not a serious condition for the average person (on the condition that they are able to drink a lot of fluids) it can be a life- threatening illness for babies, very young children, the elderly and/or disabled persons who are not able to replace the fluids lost from vomiting and/or diarrhea.
In addition, those with a compromised immune system can be at risk of further dehydration due to developing a more serious illness, which can lead to even greater vomiting and diarrhea. Such people need to be hospitalized in order to be re-hydrated and prevent further dehydration.
It is important that your doctor diagnose you correctly as having either viral or bacterial gastroenteritis or gastroenteritis due to other factors; however, in most cases, simple gastroenteritis is self-limiting, and therefore no diagnostics tests are required.
Signs and Symptoms of Gastroenteritis
- Abdominal cramps
- Fever (or clamminess)
- Loss of appetite
Those with bacterial gastroenteritis are diagnosed due to the onset of blood-stained diarrhea, whereas individuals with viral gastroenteritis exhibit frequent watery stools.
More serious symptoms include: Blood in vomit or stool, vomiting for longer than a 48 hour period, fever higher than 101°F (40°C), swollen abdomen or worsening abdominal pain, dehydration, lightheadedness, weakness, decreased urination, dry skin, dry mouth and lack of sweat/tears – all are characteristic signs that medical attention is crucial. Some medications, such as bismuth subsalicylate (anti-diarrhea and antacid), turns stool black due to the bismuth in the medication.
What Causes Gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is caused by inflammation of the stomach and intestine in the gastrointestinal tract. This inflammation interferes with one of the main functions of the intestine, which is the absorption of water and distribution of it around the body. It is due to this excess of unabsorbed fluids in the intestine that diarrhea and vomiting result. This also helps to explain why dehydration is such a common complaint amongst gastroenteritis sufferers.
Help for Gastroenteritis
Most people who suffer from simple gastroenteritis can usually treat themselves at home by resting, eating light plain food, and most importantly, by replacing the fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea. If symptoms worsen or persist, medical attention is advised.
For those that are more sensitive to the effects of dehydration, such as the very young or elderly, or those that are already suffering from a pre-existing condition, over-the-counter oral re-hydration salts are usually recommend. However, these need to be taken with caution and under medical supervision, especially when suffering from a kidney condition. In more serious dehydration cases, hospitalization occurs where fluids and nutrients are administered intravenously. For diarrhea, over-the counter medication is usually recommended, such as Loperamide. Although once again these need to be taken with caution especially those suffering from colitis (inflammation of the colon) or are pregnant.
Antibiotics are generally not recommended for gastroenteritis, due to the additional side effects they bring about. Some antibiotics kill off the ‘good bacteria’ in our stomach and intestine, which renders them more vulnerable to infection from other types of bacteria resulting in gastroenteritis.
Natural Herbal and Homeopathic Remedies related to Gastroenteritis
Certain herbs and homeopathic ingredients are known to be very effective in relieving symptoms related to gastroenteritis without the risk of side effects. Such ingredients are gentle on the gastrointestinal tract and will help to support, strengthen and treat the symptoms safely and get to the root of the problem.
Arsenicum alb has been a remedy of choice for many homeopathic practitioners in the treatment of digestive complaints (especially when due to food poisoning and accompanied by dehydration, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting). Colocynth, which is a homeopathic ingredient more commonly known as ‘bitter apple’ or ‘bitter cucumber’, is used to treat abdominal pain and cramping with associated symptoms of diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Wind flower in homeopathic form is also known for relieving vomiting and nausea associated with gastroenteritis. The tissue salt Magnesium Phosphate, is wonderfully effective in promoting gastrointestinal health in that it is the anti-spasmodic and analgesic tissue salt used to treat cramps, spasm and headaches and will help to relieve spasmodic pain on a cellular level.