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Diarrhoea & vomiting in adults (gastroenteritis)

Tikotiko me ruaki

Gastroenteritis is a term used to describe the combination of diarrhoea, nausea (with or without vomiting), stomach pain and fever.

Gastroenteritis is usually caused by an infection in the stomach and intestines.

Its symptoms include diarrhoea that comes on suddenly and can be bloody. Symptoms can also include stomach pain or cramp, feeling sick (with or without vomiting), a high temperature (fever) and muscle aches.

Gastroenteritis usually goes away in a few days, but symptoms can sometimes last from seven to 10 days, and occasionally even longer.

Gastroenteritis can be caused by viruses such as rotavirus and norovirus and bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli and Salmonella. It's spread through direct contact with a person carrying the infection. Eating food or drinking water containing bacteria and other microbes (germs) can also cause gastroenteritis.

Preventing gastroenteritis

The best ways to avoid getting gastroenteritis are to practise good hand hygiene and follow food safety advice.

Diagnosing gastroenteritis

Most cases of gastroenteritis will go away within a few days and do not need any tests. Your GP may arrange for a sample of your faeces (poo) to be tested if:

If the tests find certain types of infection, your GP may need to report this to the local public health team. They may contact you for more information. This is to help stop the infection spreading further.

Self-care with gastroenteritis

Most people do not need to see a doctor and it's best to avoid going to your doctor's surgery to avoid spreading the infection. If you're concerned, call your general practice for advice.

The main risk is dehydration and there are a few things you can do to avoid this:

Paracetamol can help with fever and stomach pain.

Your gut doesn't absorb some medications (such as epilepsy medication and contraception) as well when you have diarrhoea. Ask your general practice team or pharmacist for advice about this if you aren't sure what to do.

Getting help with gastroenteritis

You have a higher risk of becoming dehydrated if you have severe, prolonged diarrhoea or vomiting and cannot drink enough fluid. People most at risk of dehydration are:

You should go to see your GP if:

If you need to visit your GP, always tell them about your symptoms in advance. This is so they can put measures in place to stop other people being infected.

Avoiding spreading gastroenteritis

To reduce the risk of spreading the infection, it's important to have good hand hygiene. This includes washing your hands with soap and water.

Try to avoid preparing food if you have gastroenteritis. If you do prepare food, make sure you wash and dry your hands well first.

Stay away from work, community gatherings and school or preschool until you or your child have been free of symptoms for 24 to 48 hours. This includes the last time you had diarrhoea.

Stay away from work or school for at least 48 hours after your symptoms have gone away if you:

You should wait for at least two weeks after the last episode of diarrhoea before you go swimming in a pool.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.


See also:

Diarrhoea & vomiting in children (gastroenteritis)

Eating and drinking when you're unwell

Hand hygiene

Page reference: 460728

Review key: HIGTE-81185