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What Causes Gastroenteritis?

What Causes Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach and small intestine. Infection and inflammation of the gut result in acute vomiting and diarrhea. This condition is one of the most common causes of death among children younger than 5-years-old. This disease is characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramps. Loss of appetite and headache are also seen as common symptoms of this condition. If the body is capable of fighting the infection, the severity of the symptoms may be very less and the person may recover easily. While in severe cases, dehydration may result in life-threatening situation in many people, including small children.

The most common causes for this condition are bacteria and viruses. The infectious agents of this disease spread rapidly through contaminated food and water.  In some cases, a person may develop the condition internally, as the disease-causing bacteria may grow in the stomach when the acidity level is changed due to various reasons.

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Bacterial agents that may cause gastroenteritis are Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Shigella. Viruses are the common causes and they spread rapidly among children by close contact in schools and play areas. Improper hand cleansing after handling infectious things enables spread of the disease-causing virus from one person to another.

The viruses that may cause gastroenteritis include:

  • Rotaviruses
  • Adenoviruses
  • Caliciviruses
  • Astroviruses
  • Noroviruses

Protozoans and parasites are also known to cause intestinal infection leading to gastroenteritis. In most cases, these organisms spread through contaminated water, including swimming pools. The most common parasites that result in this disease include Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Cryptosporidium affects people whose immune system is weak and results in acute diarrhea.

Some types of gastrointestinal inflammation are not infectious; this includes gastroenteritis caused by food allergies, certain chemicals, heavy metals and certain medications.

The following medications may result in gastroenteritis:

  • Aspirin
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Antibiotics
  • Caffeine
  • Steroids
  • Laxatives

Lactose intolerance is also a cause of gastrointestinal infections. Heavy metals, including arsenic and mercury can irritate and inflame the gut. There are many cases in which the actual cause cannot be determined.

Gastroenteritis may affect the following the most:

  • Children in childcare centers
  • Older adults
  • People in dormitories
  • School-going children
  • People with a weak immune system