Gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu, is a condition in which the stomach and the small intestine become inflamed. Gastroenteritis is primarily caused by viral or bacterial infections. The infections are typically caused by contaminated water and spoiled food.
Acute gastroenteritis is a common cause of clinic visits and hospitalizations in the USA. Approximately 179 million cases of acute gastroenteritis occur each year. This results in millions of clinic visits, almost 500,000 hospitalizations, and more than 5,000 deaths per year.
Causes of Gastroenteritis
Infectious agents such as Rotavirus, Norovirus, Escherichia coli (E. Coli), and Salmonella can cause gastroenteritis.
Aside from infectious agents, other factors also play a role in the spread of stomach flu:
- Coming in contact with a person who has the virus
- Consuming contaminated food or water
- Not washing the hands after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper
Signs and Symptoms of Gastroenteritis
Gastroenteritis can be a highly contagious disease. Symptoms typically appear within 12 to 48 hours after exposure to the infectious agent and last for 2 to 10 days, depending on the type of infection.
Common symptoms of gastroenteritis include:
- Upset stomach
- Mild to moderate diarrhea
- Stomach cramps
- Body aches
Risk Factors Associated with Gastroenteritis
Anyone can suffer from gastroenteritis, but children and the elderly are more prone to complications due to their weakened immune systems. It was found in a study that rotavirus was the most common gastroenteritis pathogen identified, followed by norovirus, adenovirus, and Salmonella.
If you are already suffering from gastroenteritis, it is essential to replenish the body with fluids. Diarrhea and vomiting can create an imbalance of electrolytes (salt and minerals) in the body, which leads to dehydration.
You can take some steps to reduce the risk of getting gastroenteritis:
- Wash your hands regularly, particularly after going to the bathroom and before and after eating and cooking.
- Keep the kitchen surface clean and disinfected, especially after working with raw meat, seafood, and eggs.
- Keep raw meat, eggs, and poultry away from food that can be safely eaten raw.
- Avoid contaminated food and water, including ice cubes, during travels. Use bottled drinking water for consumption and brushing teeth.
- Maintain distance from anyone who appears ill. Avoid sharing plates, utensils, and drinking cups.
When to See a Doctor
Consult a doctor immediately if you experience the following symptoms of severe gastroenteritis:
- Blood in vomit or stools
- Persistent vomiting for more than 48 hours
- High-grade fever, above 101° Fahrenheit (40° Celsius)
- Increasing intensity of abdominal pain
- Severe dehydration characterized by weakness, feeling faint, fainting, dark or foul-smelling urine, and dry skin
Along with rehydration and rest, you can try some simple and natural home remedies to help treat the problem and reduce the symptoms. Gastroenteritis is usually a self-limiting condition that does not require medication.
For children, zinc supplementation and rotavirus vaccines are significant factors in reducing the morbidities, mortalities, and hospitalizations caused by acute gastroenteritis.
Here are some home remedies for gastroenteritis.
1. Increase Fluid Intake
Dehydration affects the body’s normal functioning and can even delay the healing process. So, drink plenty of water and clear, nutritious fluids like broths, soups, and rice water. Eat easy-to-digest foods, such as rice, yogurt, apples, toast, and bananas.
Salt contains sodium, which is an electrolyte that can be added to water to prevent dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea. Furthermore, salt helps fight infection and maintain the pH levels of the digestive tract.
To get the maximum benefit from salt for gastroenteritis, use high-quality salt such as Himalayan salt or sea salt. These salts are not processed like the usual white table salt. Therefore, they still contain various minerals that generally are found in natural salt.
It is also essential not to increase the dose of the salt as this can adversely affect your health and even increase diarrhea.
You can make an electrolyte drink at home.
- Add 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 liter or 4 cups of filtered water.
- Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and mix well.
- Drink this solution at short intervals throughout the day.
You can also try commercially available electrolyte preparations to balance out electrolytes and prevent dehydration.
3. Rice Water (best suited for infants)
If you are suffering from diarrhea and a stomachache due to stomach flu, the best remedy is rice water. Rice water is a bland food that acts like a demulcent to help reduce inflammation of the stomach lining and to alleviate pain.
- In an uncovered pan, boil ½ cup of white rice in 6 cups of water until the rice is tender.
- Strain and allow the water to cool.
- Add ½ teaspoon each of honey and cinnamon powder.
- Sip the warm rice water slowly every hour.
- Follow this remedy for a week.
To rid your body of “bad bacteria” in the digestive system and replace it with “good bacteria,” start taking probiotics. Probiotics can get your digestive system back on track and provide relief from symptoms like nausea, vomiting, bloating, and diarrhea.
There is significant research that shows probiotics are especially suitable for treating diarrhea.
Probiotic supplements have been helpful to prevent or treat acute diarrheal diseases and antibiotic-related conditions, especially gastrointestinal disorders.
- Consume probiotic yogurt, kefir, and related foods. Avoid artificially sweetened yogurt and kefir.
- You can also take probiotic supplements after consulting with your doctor.
Peppermint is a popular traditional remedy for digestive ailments. Peppermint is known for its antimicrobial and antispasmodic properties that help in relieving gas, bloating, upset stomach, nausea, and intestinal cramps.
If gastroenteritis becomes severe, then it could also lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There is supporting data that peppermint restores the digestive system in cases of IBS-related symptoms.
- Add 1 teaspoon of fresh or dried peppermint leaves* to 1 cup of boiling water.
- Cover and allow it to steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Strain and add honey to taste.
- Drink this herbal tea 3 times daily between meals for a few days.
*You can substitute edible peppermint oil as well; the oil is strong so add slowly according to taste.
You can even chew peppermint gum to calm the stomach.
Chamomile is an effective remedy for gastroenteritis. This herb is widely used in folk medicine to alleviate skin diseases like eczema, ulcers, wounds, stress, and many gastrointestinal disorders like diarrhea and vomiting.
Chamomile tea has been popular for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial, and carminative properties. All of these properties play a crucial role in the functioning of your digestive system. It can relieve symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bloating, nausea, and gas.
- Add 2 teaspoons of dried or 1 tablespoon of fresh chamomile flowers to a cup of hot water.
- Cover and let it steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Strain and add honey to taste.
- Drink this a few times a day for 2 to 3 days.
You can even add a few chamomile leaves to ice tea and drink as often as needed.
Ginger is another very effective remedy for treating gastroenteritis due to its antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
Research has indicated that the ginger extract of the plant and root showed high antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, which can be a cause for symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.
Ginger can prevent and treat stomach infection while reducing the frequency of symptoms, such as watery stools, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. According to the Ayurvedic system of medicine, ginger minimizes the incidence of diarrhea, pain, and fever.
- Add 1 teaspoon of freshly chopped ginger root to 1½ cup of boiling water. Cover and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain, add honey, and sip slowly. You can also add a little lemon juice for flavor. Drink 2 or 3 times a day until you feel better.
- You can make ginger ale and drink as often as you like. To prepare the drink, boil ¼ cup of chopped ginger in 1 cup of water. Next, boil ¼ cup of sugar in 1 cup of water; let simmer for a couple of minutes. Finally, mix both the prepared solutions and add ¼ cup of club soda and the juice from ½ lemon. Drink up to 3 glasses of this homemade ginger ale a day.
- Another option is to chew a small piece of fresh ginger root to treat gastroenteritis. Do consult your doctor before taking ginger supplements.
Note: People with high blood pressure should avoid ginger remedies. Furthermore, in case of children, the dosage shall differ with age, and this remedy is not recommended for infants.
Basil, which has antispasmodic properties and prevents gastric spasms, is also a good remedy for gastroenteritis.
Basil essential oil is rich in linalool and chavicol with varying amounts of geraniol, eugenol, and methyl-eugenol. These oils can help combat the symptoms of gastroenteritis, such as vomiting and diarrhea.
- Mix equal amounts of basil and ginger juice and drink 2 or 3 times a day to ease stomach pain.
- You can also boil 10 to 15 basil leaves in 1 cup of water. Drink with a pinch of rock salt twice daily for a few days.
- Alternatively, drink basil tea with honey as needed.
9. Green Bananas
Bananas, both ripe and unripe, also help in the treatment of gastroenteritis. The high content of amylase-resistant starch in bananas helps reduce the severity of symptoms.
Bananas can replenish potassium and magnesium deficiencies, two essential electrolytes required for the proper functioning of the digestive system. Bananas are also rich in vitamin B6. Additionally, banana is a bland food that is easy to digest and helps in the recovery process.
Green bananas have been found especially useful in treating gastroenteritis as they have an even higher starch content than ripened bananas.
A green banana provides an antidiarrheal effect and improves the permeability of the small intestine.
- Add a few slices of banana to a cup of yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal and enjoy as desired.
- You can also eat a few ripe bananas or try a banana smoothie.
Follow these remedies until your digestive system is back on track.
The acidic effect of lemon makes it an excellent treatment for stomach flu. The citric acid present in lemon prevents the highly contagious norovirus from spreading by inhibiting its grasp on the digestive system.
Lemon juice can be a safe and practical way to fight off the common causes of severe gastrointestinal infections. Plus, the vitamin C in lemon, as well as the antimicrobial properties, boost the immune system to help ward off the virus.
- Mix 1 to 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice in a glass of water.
- Drink it 30 minutes before meals.
- Follow this remedy until you recover completely.
- Rinse all vegetables and fruits thoroughly before eating.
- Avoid raw or uncooked foods.
- Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water every day.
- Rest and sleep as much as possible for quick recovery.
- Avoid carbonated beverages as they can increase gas and bloating.
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine when on a diet for gastroenteritis.
- Eat bland foods until symptoms subside and avoid full-fat dairy products.
- Apply a warm compress or hot water bag on the stomach to reduce pain and cramping.
- You can also try acupressure, acupuncture, and aromatherapy to treat symptoms of gastroenteritis.
- Drink coconut water to replenish dehydration.
If you do not feel better within one week, consult a physician.
- Chow CM, Leung AKC, Hon KL. Acute gastroenteritis: from guidelines to real life. Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3108653/. Published July 15, 2010.
- Bresee, S. J, Marcus, et al. Etiology of severe Acute Gastroenteritis among adults visiting Emergency Departments in the United States | The Journal of Infectious Diseases | Oxford Academic. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/205/9/1374/2192242. Published March 27, 2012.
- Symptoms & Causes of Viral Gastroenteritis (“Stomach Flu”). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/viral-gastroenteritis/symptoms-causes. Published May 1, 2018.
- Gastrointestinal Society. Gastroenteritis (stomach flu). Gastrointestinal Society. https://www.badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/gas troenteritis/ . Published 2017.
- Tavarez LA, Gomez M, Mendoza HR. [Management of acute diarrheal disease with rice water]. Arch Domin Pediatr. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12290546. Published 1991.
- Wong HB. Rice water in treatment of infantile gastroenteritis. The Lancet. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6113434. Published July 11, 1981.
- Kechagia M, Basoulis D, Konstantopoulou S, et al. Health benefits of probiotics: A review. ISRN Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4045285/. Published 2013.
- NCCIH. Peppermint Oil. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/peppermintoil.
Published December 1, 2016. Accessed October 18, 2018.
- Srivastava JK, Shankar E, Gupta S. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Molecular Medicine Reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/ . Published November 1, 2010.
- Bode AM. The amazing and mighty ginger. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/ . Published January 1, 1970.
- Jamshidi N, Cohen MM. The clinical efficacy and safety of tulsi in humans: A systematic review of the literature. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5376420/. Published 2017.
- Rabbani GH, Teka T, Zaman B, Majid N, Khatun M, Fuchs GJ. Clinical studies in persistent diarrhea: dietary management with green banana or pectin in Bangladeshi children. Gastroenterology . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11522739. Published September 2001.
- Lemon juice disinfects against human norovirus. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150825103120.htm. Published August 25, 2015.