Let’s face it, there are some pretty nasty bugs out there, but when it comes to common diseases – like the flu and colds – the least popular illness has to be gastroenteritis, or ‘gastro’, which is found in so many parts of the world its nicknames include traveller’s belly, delhi belly, bali belly and stomach flu.
What are the symptoms?
In two words – a mess! Typically when you have gastroenteritis you start feeling nauseous and maybe have gut cramps or aches and pains around your body. At this point many people will start vomiting and need to lie down and sleep.
It’s common to experience flu-like symptoms too, such as headaches, sensitivity to light, a loss of appetite and eventually diarrhoea. The mix of symptoms experienced will vary from person to person and virus to virus. In general, the worst symptoms will last from 1-3 days but chronic cases can last much longer.
Causes of gastroenteritis
The most common cause of gastroenteritis is a viral infection in the stomach and the small intestine. The infection causes inflammation in the lining of these digestive tracts making them very sensitive. To protect itself, the body recognises the discomfort being caused and attempts to eject the invading virus as fast as possible.
Getting through it
While it’s more unpleasant than life-threatening, it’s still very important to take care of yourself while you have gastroenteritis. With most cases running their course in three days, drugs aren’t usually prescribed. You just have to tough it out.
The most important symptom to manage is dehydration. From time to time this is a normal state of being for most of us and we respond by drinking enough fluids to remove our thirst. However if you are vomiting and have diarrhoea and are sweating through fever, your body loses precious fluids very quickly. Along with fluids, we lose the salt and minerals we need to help keep the rest of our body running properly and fight the illness.
Sports drinks are the answer! Sip them slowly and just keep drinking them as often as you can manage, even after your symptoms have stopped. Many people find it’s best to drink them at room temperature rather than icy cold, to avoid shocking the stomach and causing more vomiting.
Paracetamol helps with the stomach and muscle pains and can lower the intensity and temperature of your fever.
Rest is the other secret to a fast recovery. Your body will feel beaten up – fair enough, it’s just been invaded by a virus – so take at least one day of solid rest to let your digestive system recover.
Once your appetite returns, stick to bland foods for at least a day, as your intestines will remain sensitive. Toast, plain salads with no dressing or plain pasta with a very bland sauce are good options. Avoid spicy, salty or sugary foods until you feel 100 per cent.
Gastroenteritis is very contagious, it’s why we all suffer from it. The viruses that cause it live in our faeces and vomit and often particles become airborne during or after vomiting. Even a sneeze can contain the virus.
If you’re caring for someone with gastroenteritis, take precautions to protect yourself – wash your hands regularly and clean up any spills with bleach.
If you are ill, help your family out by avoiding contact with them, not preparing any food for them, and cleaning up any vomit as soon as possible.