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Stomach Flu 

Introduction
The stomach flu, also called viral gastroenteritis, is the leading cause of severe diarrhea.  It can also cause vomiting and abdominal pain.  The virus is found in contaminated food or drinking water.  Symptoms of the stomach flu usually develop within 4 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus.  The goal of treatment is to prevent dehydration while the virus runs its course.

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Anatomy
Whenever you eat and drink, food travels through your digestive system for processing.  Your body absorbs nutrients and removes waste products via your digestive system.  When you eat, your tongue moves chewed food to the back of your throat.  When you swallow, the food moves into the opening of the esophagus.  Your esophagus is a tube that moves food from your throat to your stomach.
 
Your stomach produces acids to break down food for digestion.  Your stomach processes the food you eat into a liquid form.  The processed liquid travels from your stomach to your small intestine.  The liquid solidifies as it moves through the large intestine, forming a stool.  The stool is eliminated from your body when you have a bowel movement.

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Causes
There are many viruses that cause the stomach flu.  Rotavirus and Norwalk virus are the most common ones.  The viruses are found in contaminated food or drinking water.  The viruses are frequently spread by poor hand washing.  They can spread among groups of people.  Symptoms typically appear within 4 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus.

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Symptoms
Symptoms of the stomach flu usually last from one to two days.  The stomach flu can cause diarrhea and vomiting.  You may experience nausea, abdominal pain, or cramping.  This may cause you to have incontinence, a bowel movement when you do not intend to.  You may get the chills or a fever.  Your joints and muscles may feel sore and stiff.  Your skin may feel clammy and you may sweat a lot.  The stomach flu may cause you to lose weight.  In rare cases, people may vomit blood.

The rotavirus can cause severe symptoms in infants, children, and the elderly.  Severe symptoms can lead to severe dehydration and death.  You should consult your doctor if your infant or child has symptoms of the stomach flu.  You should contact your doctor if you are elderly and experiencing severe symptoms.

Call your doctor if your stomach flu lasts longer than a few days.  You should call your doctor if you experience symptoms including faintness, dizziness, dry mouth, and blood in your stool.  Other symptoms of concern are producing small amounts of urine and having a sunken appearance to your eyes.  An infant may present sunken fontanels, the “soft spots” on the head.

 

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Diagnosis
Your doctor can diagnose the stomach flu by reviewing your medical history and performing an examination.  You should tell your doctor about your symptoms.  Your doctor may test your stool sample to determine if the symptoms you are experiencing are from a virus or bacteria.

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Treatment
The main goal of treatment is to promote hydration.  Fluids, salts, and minerals need to be replaced.  Your doctor can recommend fluid replacement drinks for infants and children.
People with severe symptoms or dehydration may need to have fluids administered via an IV line.  The stomach virus usually goes away on its own in a few days.  Antibiotics do not work on viruses.

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Am I at Risk

People with the highest risk for getting the stomach flu include infants, children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

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Complications
The rotavirus can cause severe symptoms in infants, children, and the elderly.  Severe symptoms can lead to severe dehydration and death.  You should consult your doctor if your infant or child has symptoms of the stomach flu.  You should contact your doctor if you are elderly and experiencing severe symptoms.

Call your doctor if your stomach flu lasts longer than a few days.  You should call your doctor if you experience symptoms including faintness, dizziness, dry mouth, and blood in your stool.  Other symptoms of concern are producing small amounts of urine and having a sunken appearance to your eyes.  An infant may present sunken fontanels, the “soft spots” on the head.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.