Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of your intestinal lining and caused by bacteria, virus or parasites. It is often confused with what people deem the stomach flu, but it is in fact a medical condition called gastroenteritis. The second most common illness in the United States happens to be gastroenteritis though most people don’t realize they have it. This condition is spread through food or water that has been contaminated. The best prevention by far is washing your hands frequently.

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis

There are a variety of symptoms you might experience when you have gastroenteritis, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps or pain, or diarrhea. The reason it is often confused with a stomach flu is due to the similarities in symptoms. With the stomach flu, you may also get nausea and vomiting but will also have a headache, muscle aches and pains, and respiratory symptoms. Some people may experience more severe symptoms such as blood in the stool or vomit, a fever higher than 101 degree Fahrenheit, vomiting for more than 2 days, swollen abdomen, abdominal pain, or dehydration which includes decreased urination, weakness, dry mouth, and lack of sweat and tears.

Cause of Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is most commonly caused by bacteria or parasites in food, but can also be from food-borne illnesses. Most of the people who have nausea and vomiting after eating contaminated food think they have food poisoning though it a different medical condition altogether. The person’s immune system will determine how severe their gastroenteritis is and their ability to resist infection. Someone who doesn’t get sick easily won’t have as hard of a time with the condition than those with a weak immune system.

Diagnosing Gastroenteritis

Many people think they have food poisoning or the stomach flu and won’t seek medical attention as it can be gone within a couple days. Others experience more severe symptoms and will go to their doctor. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and perform a physical examination. He or she may ask about your travel history, if there could have been exposure to poisons or irritants, and what your diet or food preparation habits are. Treating gastroenteritis is partly prevention of getting in the future, and part treating your symptoms. You may be asked to hydrate by drinking more fluids as this can cause dehydration in most people. You will also need to be more careful about where you choose to eat and how you handle foods you eat when you cook at home. Medications typically include antibiotics.

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