Why is your stomach upset?
You’re out running errands when all of a sudden you get the sudden urge that you need to go to the bathroom. You barely make it into the bathroom stall before your last meal revisits. Even after relieving yourself, you still don’t feel well and decide to go home instead of continuing on. You make it home and end up spending the rest of the day beside the toilet. Is it possible you have the dreaded stomach bug?
The stomach bug (gastroenteritis) is caused by a virus. It is an infection inside your intestines that comes from coming into contact with an infected person, food or water. Most often, the culprit is either the Norovirus or Rotavirus. Symptoms usually start one to three days after you’ve been exposed and can range from mild to severe lasting a day or two, but can last up to 10 days. Symptoms include watery, non-bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain/cramping, nausea, vomiting, occasional muscle aches, headaches and low-grade fever (a temperature that is elevated above 98.6°F, but under 100.4°F). It is very common for multiple people who are in close quarters, such as dorms, church events, cruise ships and schools, to get gastroenteritis at the same time.
Since gastroenteritis is caused by a virus, there is not a specific medication you can take to make it go away, like antibiotics for bacterial infections. The most common way to treat it is by treating the symptoms you are having and drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated. Don’t force yourself to eat, but drink small sips of water, broth, clear soda or non-caffeinated sports drinks. When you are feeling well enough, start with bland foods, like crackers, to ease back into eating. Avoid any diary, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, high fat or highly seasoned foods at first. Try to get plenty of rest.
For the most part you should be able to manage the symptoms at home, but this isn’t always the case. You should see a doctor if you have not been able to get liquids down for 24 hours, have been vomiting for more than two days, vomiting blood, have blood in your stool, fever > 104°F or any signs of dehydration (excessive thirst, dry mouth, deep yellow-colored or no urine, severe weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness). For children, it is important to take them to the doctor if they have a fever > 102°F, seem lethargic or very irritable, bloody diarrhea, seem dehydrated (watch fluid intake and urine output for any changes), vomiting that lasts several hours, no wet diapers in 6 hours, sunken soft spot (fontanel) on top of their head, cries with no tears or unusual sleepy/drowsiness/unresponsiveness.
The best way to prevent getting gastroenteritis is by proper hand washing. This is particularly important before preparing food after going to the bathroom. Proper hand washing means using soap and rubbing hands together vigorously for 20 seconds prior to rinsing in water. Another way to decrease the spread of the virus is to use separate personal items, such as utensils. If you know someone is sick, keep your distance and disinfect hard surfaces. There is a vaccine available for younger children since their immune systems are more susceptible.
It’s not fun to have gastroenteritis, but remember it will go away and you will get better. The key is for all of us to do our part to decrease the spread of it through better handwashing. If you have any question or concerns as to whether you have gastroenteritis, please speak with your physician.