Stomach problems can be caused by many factors from food poisoning to ulcers. While many people tend to dismiss abdominal pain as a result of indulging in particular foods, sometimes it is not that simple. Many abdominal conditions are caused by a stomach virus. Read on to understand what a stomach virus is, the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatment options.
What is a Stomach Virus?
A stomach virus is also called gastroenteritis or abdominal flu. Stomach flu is an infection of the gastrointestinal lining and can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or parasite. The stomach virus comes in various strains. A report by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the primary cause of stomach flu in the U.S. is norovirus. However, Gastroenteritis can also be caused by viruses such as adenovirus and rotavirus.
The main symptom of gastroenteritis is watery diarrhea. You may also suffer from abdominal pain and cramps. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, head or muscle aches, and low-grade fever. Gastroenteritis symptoms may be either mild or severe. Symptoms normally last for up to 10 days and in some cases pass without medication. In mild cases, the symptoms disappear without treatment but when they last for several days, you ought to consult a doctor.
A stomach virus is contagious and spreads quickly. Persons infected with the virus become contagious once they start to feel ill and a few days after recovering. Gastroenteritis can spread through foods and drinks that are contaminated by the virus or mouth contact with infected persons. The virus also spreads through the stool or vomit of infected persons. Many times I have treated whole families for the same illness.
Quick Care or ER
Red flags that will send you to the ER include:
- A fever that is above 104 F for adults and 102 F for children.
- Bloody stool or vomit.
- Vomit that goes beyond two days.
- Dehydration– some of the signs of dehydration are a dry mouth, excessive thirst, lightheadedness, severe weakness, and dark yellow urine.
Diagnosing Stomach Virus
Your doctor will diagnose a stomach virus by taking note of your symptoms. A blood test is not necessary during diagnosis, but if you have a high fever or bloody stool, a stool test may be conducted to rule out parasitic and bacterial infection. Doctors rarely use ultrasounds, CT scans, or X-rays for the diagnosis.
What Will Your Doctor Ask?
Some of the questions that the doctor will ask you include:
- When did your symptoms begin? That is, how long have you been symptomatic?
- Have you made contact with anyone exhibiting the same symptoms?
- How serious are your symptoms?
- Have you made any recent travels to foreign lands or into the wilderness
- Are your symptoms continuous or do they show up and go unexpectedly?
- What seems to relieve or worsen your symptoms?
What Is Your Doctor Looking For
First of all, your doctor wants to know if you are dehydrated. That is, does your doctor need to administer IV fluids. If IV fluids are needed, a visit to the ER is justified. Secondly, to further determine the severity of your symptoms, your doctor wants to check for bloody stool or vomit, fever, and a urine study.
Upon examination of the abdomen. it is important to determine if the belly is soft and non-tender or rigid and painful to touch.
What is Your Doctor Thinking
When your doctor performs a stool test, they want to determine whether the disorder is caused by the adenovirus or rotavirus. Your doctor may also perform a stool test to rule out parasitic or bacterial infections. Clostridium difficile (C.diff) is a bacteria that may occur after an antibiotic had been consumed. One recent patient was placed on the antibiotic Clindamycin only to develop profuse diarrhea. The cause was C.diff.
Your physician wants to determine whether you contracted the virus from another person. This is very important when persons are in close quarters such as cruise ships.
By reviewing your symptoms, your physician will also want to dismiss the possibility of other conditions. For symptoms that come and go, it is likely that you are suffering from another abdominal problem. For example, stomach cramps or pain can appear because of appendicitis. Most of the symptoms associated with stomach flu such as diarrhea, fever, and muscle aches also come with food poisoning. Another possibility is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Treatment for Stomach Virus
There is no specific treatment for gastroenteritis because it often resolves itself. Antibiotics cannot work with viruses because overusing them will result in an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria. In many cases, specialists treat the stomach virus using self-care measures. The following are some of the common remedies used to relieve the symptoms of stomach flu:
- Leave the stomach to settle. Refrain from eating food for a few hours.
- Drinking Liquids: Since you have lost significant body fluids, drinking water will help you replace electrolytes and hydrate the body. Non-caffeinated drinks such as chamomile tea will help you rest while ginger, peppermint, and green teas will relieve vomiting and nausea.
- The BRAT (Bananas /Rice /Apple Sauce /Toast) Diet: This diet consists of foods that one can easily digest. It provides energy and replaces nutrients lost through diarrhea and vomiting. Bananas will help you replace potassium lost through vomiting/diarrhea, white rice and toast will give e you a boost of energy, and applesauce contains pectin that helps to relieve diarrhea.
- Mustard Poultice: The poultice helps relieve vomiting and nausea. This remedy increases perspiration, heat, and circulation in the affected part. The best poultice can be made using grounded mustard seeds. You can also use a pinch of mustard powder.
- Herbal Tincture: Research has shown that herbs like geranium and Oregon contain antimicrobial components whereas licorice and slippery elm promote the growth of tissue and reduce inflammation.
- Probiotics: Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum help replenish good bacteria in your bowels. This helps to make your digestive system stronger and prevents re-infection.
How Long Will You Have a Stomach Virus?
It takes an average of 24-72 hours for one to become sick after contracting the virus. In some cases, it takes one week or longer for a person to show any symptoms of sickness. A person is still contagious three days after they stop experiencing the symptoms. It takes up to ten days to fully recover from the illness.
A stomach virus is a condition characterized by diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and fever. While it is at times difficult to distinguish this condition from food poisoning, through a series of tests, your physician will be able to determine whether you have a viral, bacterial, or parasitical infection. If your symptoms persist for more than ten days, or you experience severe diarrhea or vomiting, do not hesitate to consult your doctor.
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