Gastroenteritis: First aid
Date Updated: 09/18/2021
Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of your stomach and intestines. Common causes are:
- Food or water contaminated by bacteria or parasites
- Side effect from medications
Characteristic signs and symptoms include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- Low-grade fever (sometimes)
Depending on the cause of the inflammation, symptoms may last from one day to more than a week.
If you suspect gastroenteritis in yourself:
- Sip liquids, such as a sports drink or water, to prevent dehydration. Drinking fluids too quickly can worsen the nausea and vomiting, so try to take small frequent sips over a couple of hours, instead of drinking a large amount at once.
- Take note of urination. You should be urinating at regular intervals, and your urine should be light and clear. Infrequent passage of dark urine is a sign of dehydration. Dizziness and lightheadedness also are signs of dehydration. If any of these signs and symptoms occur and you can't drink enough fluids, seek medical attention.
- Ease back into eating. Try to eat small amounts of food frequently if you experience nausea. Otherwise, gradually begin to eat bland, easy-to-digest foods, such as soda crackers, toast, gelatin, bananas, applesauce, rice and chicken. Stop eating if your nausea returns. Avoid milk and dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and fatty or highly seasoned foods for a few days.
- Get plenty of rest. The illness and dehydration can make you weak and tired.
Seek medical attention if:
- Vomiting persists more than two days
- Diarrhea persists more than several days
- Diarrhea turns bloody
- Fever is more than 102 F (39 C) or higher
- Lightheadedness or fainting occurs with standing
- Confusion develops
- Worrisome abdominal pain develops
If you suspect gastroenteritis in your child:
- Allow your child to rest.
- When your child's vomiting stops, begin to offer small amounts of an oral rehydration solution (CeraLyte, Enfalyte, Pedialyte). Don't use only water or only apple juice. Drinking fluids too quickly can worsen the nausea and vomiting, so try to give small frequent sips over a couple of hours, instead of drinking a large amount at once. Try using a water dropper of rehydration solution instead of a bottle or cup.
- Gradually introduce bland, easy-to-digest foods, such as toast, rice, bananas and potatoes. Avoid giving your child full-fat dairy products, such as whole milk and ice cream, and sugary foods, such as sodas and candy. These can make diarrhea worse.
- If you're breast-feeding, let your baby nurse. If your baby is bottle-fed, offer a small amount of an oral rehydration solution or regular formula.
Seek medical attention if your child:
- Becomes unusually drowsy.
- Vomits frequently or vomits blood.
- Has bloody diarrhea.
- Shows signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth and skin, marked thirst, sunken eyes, or crying without tears. In an infant, be alert to the soft spot on the top of the head becoming sunken and to diapers that remain dry for more than three hours.
- Is an infant and has a fever.
- Is older than three months of age and has a fever of 102 F (39 C) or more.