What causes gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is a disturbance in the stomach and intestines,(gastro meaning stomach and enteritis meaning inflammation of the intestine).
It is often caused by viruses, although bacteria can also be responsible. The infection may range anywhere from mild to severe.
Signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis
Babies can have diarrhea at any time. If baby continues to have liquid stools (motions) and is vomiting as well, it is likely to be gastroenteritis.
A young baby can deteriorate very quickly with gastroenteritis. It is wise to consult a doctor immediately if the baby has constant bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. These attacks can dangerously weaken the very young.
With an older child, the parent should know how to manage gastroenteritis in the home. But if any of the following signs are present it is wise to see the doctor:
- if the child is lethargic and won’t drink
- shows signs of pain
- frequent vomiting persists for a day
- diarrhea continues for more than two days
- if you are really worried.
How to treat gastroenteritis?
When a child is vomiting or has diarrhea it is advisable not to give any solid food, but most important that he has adequate fluids to replace those lost. Fluid loss causes most of the trouble with gastroenteritis. Some body salts are also lost, and these can be replaced by juices – particularly tomato or vegetable juice.
It is wise to give food gradually until a normal diet is tolerated. Some children will recover more quickly than others and appetite is a good guide to their requirements. Small, frequent feedings are preferable to large amounts at any one time.
The introduction of foods may cause some slight increase in bowel motions, but there is no reason to stop the food unless the condition becomes much worse. The child’s nutritional requirements should be provided for as soon as possible.
Always use a clean glass or sterilized bottle for every feeding. Pour out, immediately, any unused drinks.
Recovery diet for gastroenteritis in babies
Here is a three-day diet plan with sample menus for the second and third days, devised by the dietitians of the Capital Territory Health Commission, for children and infants suffering from gastroenteritis.
For the first 24 hours
Offer any of the following every ½ to 1 hour. The drink should be taken slowly: 120ml (4 oz) water with 1 tsp glucose; flat lemonade, fruit juice, 60ml (2oz) water plus 60ml (2oz) orange, apple, pineapple, tomato.
Continue to offer the fluids and add a selection of: baby cereal, mix with ½ milk ½ water; cooked semolina; stewed apple, mashed ripe banana; broth; mashed potato; dry toast, biscuits with honey; ½ strength milk mixture, no more than three x 120ml in the day.
In addition to the foods already listed, add steamed chicken, fish, boiled egg, milk pudding or yogurt, other plain biscuits (e.g, arrowroot), other vegetables.
Sample menus for 2nd and 3rd days:
- On rising – fruit juice
- 8am – cereal, ½ strength milk, ½ tsp sugar
- 10am – fruit Juice, biscuit with honey
- 12pm – stewed apple, jelly
- 3pm – fruit juice, biscuit
- 6pm – chicken broth, mashed potato, 120ml ½ strength milk
- Bedtime – fruit juice, dry toast, honey
- Breakfast – cereal, toast, scrape butter, ½ strength milk
- 10am – fruit juice or milk, biscuit
- Lunch – boiled egg, bread and butter, stewed fruits, ½ strength milk
- 3pm – fruit juice or milk, biscuit
- Dinner – steamed chicken, mashed potato, other vegetable, stewed fruit with yogurt
- Bedtime – fruit juice or milk, biscuit
How many days does gastroenteritis last?
Antibiotics don’t affect viral infections so there is usually no magic cure for gastroenteritis in babies and small children. If the infection takes its natural course it should burn out in a few days.
If you ever feel you need extra assurance or advice, contact the child health nurse at your local community health center, or your family doctor.