Skip to main content

Five things to know about gastroenteritis

By CNN Staff
updated 2:40 PM EST, Sun March 3, 2013
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is seen at the Somerset House in London in February 2011. Click through the gallery to see more photos from her life. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is seen at the Somerset House in London in February 2011. Click through the gallery to see more photos from her life.
HIDE CAPTION
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Photos: Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Photos: Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
Photos: Queen Elizabeth II
Photos: Queen Elizabeth II
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Billions of people get gastroenteritis each year, experts say
  • The cause is usually a virus, but in other cases bacteria, parasites can be blamed
  • Symptoms generally pass in a few days but could last up to 10 days
  • Doctors say to watch your fluids, replace lost electrolytes

(CNN) -- The queen of England has something that most of us get at one point or another -- but usually gastroenteritis doesn't lead to a hospital stay.

Experts say, however, that anytime an older patient gets it, the complications can be more serious.

Dr. Won Kyoo Cho, the director of gastroenterology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, says doctors are more likely to admit someone to the hospital when they are concerned about the patient not being able to keep anything in his or her stomach.

"When they get dehydrated, it usually it gets worse. We need to get them IV fluids" to replace potassium, magnesium and phosphorous, he says.

Queen Elizabeth II hospitalized for stomach bug

Dr. Corey Siegel, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at Dartmouth, says dehydration can lead to kidney problems.

And the elderly are at especially high risk of getting dehydrated when they have gastroenteritis, he says.

Once treated, most symptoms disappear in a few days, Cho says.

Here are five things you should know about gastroenteritis:

1. It is often called the stomach flu, but it's not.

It often can be caused by a virus, but it's not an influenza virus. It can also be caused by bacteria or parasites, but that is rarer. The National Institutes of Health says viral gastroenteritis is the second most common illness in the United States. People exhibit symptoms of watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes a fever.

2. It is rarely deadly.

But infants, older adults or people with compromised immune systems can have serious complications. That's because they are at risk for dehydration from loss of fluids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Cleveland Clinic says about 27 people die each day in the United States from severe gastroenteritis. But most people recover without needing hospitalization, the NIH says. Cho says more than 3 billion people around the world get the disease each year.

3. It can be foodborne or waterborne, or you can get it from another person.

Gastroenteritis is contagious and can be spread through contact between someone who is infected and another person. It can also be spread by food (especially seafood) or drink that is contaminated, but that is less common. Prevention is key, the Mayo Clinic says, advising people to wash their hands frequently and avoid food or water or utensils that they think might be contaminated. Cho says when doctors diagnose the disease, they look for two things: symptoms and circumstances. The latter can help narrow down what type of gastroenteritis a person has.

4. It cannot be treated with antibiotics -- if it is viral.

The Cleveland Clinic also says doctors usually do not recommend antidiarrheal medications because they can prolong the infection. The best course of action is to replenish with fluids or foods that contain the most electrolytes or complex carbohydrates, the experts say. The CDC recommends keeping oral rehydration solution on hand and giving it to someone who has had diarrhea. Cho says doctors usually hold off for a few days before using antibiotics. "It can be a little bit tricky," he says, adding doctors usually take a stool sample to see if the cause is bacterial.

5. It can last up to 10 days.

It depends on the type of virus the patient has, the CDC says.

Check out the latest news from CNN.com

CNN's William Hudson and Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The tragic killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a bitter public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 10:20 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
North Korea warns the United States that U.S. "citadels" will be attacked, dwarfing the hacking attack on Sony that led to the cancellation of a comedy film's release.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it's never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
More than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation, Unicef has warned.
updated 8:22 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Boko Haram's latest abductions may meet a weary global reaction, Nigerian journalist Tolu Ogunlesi says.
updated 5:34 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Drops, smudges, pools of blood are everywhere -- but in the computer room CNN's Nic Robertson reels from the true horror of the Peshawar school attack.
updated 9:43 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
updated 4:48 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
updated 9:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
updated 9:31 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT