What is Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis refers to an infection of the stomach and the intestine. The most common symptoms of gastroenteritis are vomiting and frequent episodes of diarrhea that occur three or four times every 24 hours.


The symptoms of gastroenteritis usually begin within 24 to 48 hours of infection and may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea or feeling ill
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Three or more episodes of diarrhea every 24 hours
  • Stool may contain blood and mucus
  • Fever
  • Chills, shivering and fever
  • Muscle and body ache
  • Stomach cramps
  • Headache


Gastroenteritis may be caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites. In England, the majority of adult gastroenteritis is caused by norovirus and food poisoning. The infection interferes with the absorption of water from the contents of the intestine, which leads to dehydration and the passing of watery stools.

Gastroenteritis is highly infectious and is mainly spread from person to person via the fecal–oral route, usually as a result of people touching objects after using the toilet without washing their hands. If another person touches their mouth after touching the contaminated object or uses the object to prepare or eat food, they may become infected with the virus.

Diagnosis and treatment

Gastroenteritis often does not require a diagnosis because the symptoms usually clear up without treatment. If symptoms persist, however, a stool sample may sent for analysis to help determine the pathogen that has caused the infection. While viral diarrhea usually resolves with rest and plenty of clear fluids, bacterial diarrhea needs to be treated using antibiotics. In some cases, blood and urine tests may also be recommended to rule out other conditions if an individual is particularly ill or symptoms last for longer than would usually be expected with gastroenteritis.

The majority of people who suffer form gastroenteritis only experience mild symptoms that pass after a few days. However, if patients are severely ill or vulnerable due to older age or another condition, then treatment may be recommended to prevent dehydration which can be fatal.

Dehydration leads to an excess loss of fluid and electrolytes from the body. An oral rehydration solution can be used to treat these individuals. The solution contains a carefully balanced mixture of salt, sugar and essential electrolytes such as sodium and potassium to help replace fluid that has been lost.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jul 7, 2023

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Mandal, Ananya. (2023, July 07). What is Gastroenteritis?. News-Medical. Retrieved on July 23, 2024 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Gastroenteritis.aspx.

  • MLA

    Mandal, Ananya. "What is Gastroenteritis?". News-Medical. 23 July 2024. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Gastroenteritis.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Mandal, Ananya. "What is Gastroenteritis?". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Gastroenteritis.aspx. (accessed July 23, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Mandal, Ananya. 2023. What is Gastroenteritis?. News-Medical, viewed 23 July 2024, https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Gastroenteritis.aspx.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.