The nasty combination of abdominal pain with vomiting and diarrhea Is a common reason for individuals to be seen in the Emergency Room. It is doubtless one of the more uncomfortable conditions yet very treatable. Almost universally patients suspect that they have had food poisoning, and though sometimes this is true, there are a number of causes for this condition commonly called “gastroenteritis.”
Causes of Gastroenteritis:
• Food Poisoning: Contaminated food is a common cause of gastroenteritis. Food can be contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins. Common sources of food poisoning in the United States include unwashed produce, poultry, eggs, dairy, and seafood.
• Viral Causes: Viruses such as rotavirus, norovirus, and adenovirus can cause gastroenteritis. These viruses are typically spread through contact with an infected person, contaminated food, and water.
• Bacterial Causes: Bacteria such as E. coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Shigella can cause gastroenteritis. These bacteria are typically spread through contact with an infected person, contaminated food, and water.
Treating Gastroenteritis at Home:
• Over-the-counter medications such as antidiarrheals (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) can be used to treat nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
• It is important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Oral rehydration solution or sports drinks can help replenish lost electrolytes. Popsicles, Jello, and broth are also great options. Try not to drink a lot at once as this can cause immediate vomiting. Slow and steady win the race!
• One of the more common misconceptions is that diarrhea is meant to “flush out” the infection. Dehydration is the enemy and diarrhea contributes to fluid losses so should be prevented. Note that toddlers and young children are an exception and can get worse with antidiarrheals.
Symptoms to Prompt Evaluation by a Doctor:
• Severe dehydration: If you can check your own vital signs, knowing if you have a fast heart rate (above 100 beats per minute) or a low blood pressure can give you a clue that you are not adequately hydrated.
• High fever: Temperatures over 100.4 F
• Severe abdominal pain: Cramps are typical when vomiting or having diarrhea, but the pain should die down in between episodes. Having constant pain is also a reason to be seen by a doctor.
• Bloody diarrhea : This indicates a bacterial infection and possibly a more serious condition
• Neurologic symptoms such as confusion or lethargy
• Persistent vomiting
• Weakness or dizziness
• Signs of shock (rapid breathing, low blood pressure, pale skin)
Treatments in the Emergency Room:
• Patients who are severely dehydrated may need intravenous fluids.
• Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat certain types of bacterial gastroenteritis but are usually not needed.
• Antiemetic medications that stop vomiting can be given either through an IV or by mouth that dissolve on the tongue.
• Anti-diarrheal medications may be started to help with diarrhea. These are the same that you get over-the-counter and often help with cramps, too.
If you have vomiting and diarrhea and need help but don’t want to wait, call us at Bay Mobile Urgent Care (408-256-1117) to be treated in your own bed, your own home, and by your own community ER doctor.