Gastroenteritis: Care Instructions

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Overview

Gastroenteritis is an illness that may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It can be caused by bacteria or a virus.

You will probably begin to feel better in 1 to 2 days. In the meantime, get plenty of rest and make sure you do not become dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when your body loses too much fluid.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase your fluid intake.
  • Drink fluids slowly, in frequent, small amounts, because drinking too much too fast can cause vomiting.
  • When you feel like eating, start with small amounts. Avoid spicy, hot, or high-fat foods, and do not drink alcohol or caffeine for a day or two. Do not drink milk or eat ice cream until you are feeling better.

How to prevent food poisoning

  • Keep your hands and your kitchen clean. Wash cutting boards and countertops often with hot, soapy water. Consider using disinfectant sprays or wipes on your counters.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Do not eat meats, dressings, salads, or other foods that have been kept at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
  • Use a thermometer to check your refrigerator. It should be between 34°F and 40°F.
  • Defrost meats in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the kitchen counter.
  • Cook meat until it is well done.
  • Do not eat raw eggs or uncooked sauces made with raw eggs.
  • Do not take chances. If food looks or tastes spoiled, throw it out.
  • Be extra careful when you travel. In some places, you may not want to drink water from the tap (including ice cubes) or eat any raw foods.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe belly pain.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • Your stools are maroon or very bloody.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or feel like you may faint.
  • You have trouble breathing or are breathing faster and passing only a little urine.
  • You have new or worse belly pain.
  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • You have signs of dehydration, such as:
    • Dry eyes and a dry mouth.
    • Passing only a little urine.
    • Feeling thirstier than usual.
  • You have nausea or vomiting and can't keep fluids down.
  • You cannot pass stools or gas.
  • You have new or more blood in your stools or your stools are black and tarlike.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms.
  • You are losing weight.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.