Gastroenteritis refers to an infection of the gastrointestinal tract, and leads to inflammation of the stomach and the intestines. This irritation, characterized by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, is also known as the stomach flu. The stomach flu entails severe diarrhea, which can lead to vomiting because of detrimental loss of body fluids. In most cases, the individual can return to normalcy by maintaining a healthy diet and drinking plenty of liquids. However, the symptoms for small children and elders tend to be more severe, because it can result in dehydration.
Gastroenteritis is caused by several factors; the common triggers are normally bacteria and viruses. Viral and bacterial gastroenteritis can be easily contracted because the infectious agents spread through contaminated water and food. There are many cases in which the actual cause of the condition cannot be traced.
Some of the bacterial agents that result in gastroenteritis include:
- Escherichia coli – Escherichia, or E.coli, is bacteria that is the common cause for Traveler’s diarrhea, colitis, and food poisoning.
- Salmonella – This often comes from poor handling of contaminated animals.
- Shigella – Shigella is one of the causes for dysentery, and spreads through contaminated food and water.
- Campylobacter – This bacteria spreads through undercooked food.
- Clostridium – Overgrowth of this bacteria, after having antibiotics for a long duration, can trigger diarrhea.
A number of viruses can cause gastroenteritis, such as adenovirus, rotavirus, calicivirus, astrovirus, and the norovirus. Among these, the culprit in most cases of stomach and intestinal irritation is the norovirus. This virus is reported to cause more than 23 million cases of gastroenteritis every year. These infectious agents spread through close contact. It is very common among children because it spreads very easily.
Giradiasis, a water-borne gastroenteritis, is caused by the protozoan Giradia. Cryptosporidium also causes diarrhea, particularly in people with weakened immune systems. These protozoan parasites often spread through drinking water or through water in swimming pools.
Certain chemicals may also lead to irritation and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Seafood, heavy metals, antibiotics, and several medications may trigger irritations. Common medications that irritate the stomach include:
- Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs
Heavy metals, like arsenic, lead, and mercury, which are known to be present in drinking water, can also lead to gastroenteritis. Moreover, lactose intolerance is another reason for intestinal irritation. Having foods containing milk or dairy products may result in gastroenteritis.