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Viral Gastroenteritis (“Stomach Flu”)

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Definition & Facts

Viral gastroenteritis is an infection of your intestines that typically causes watery diarrhea, pain or cramping in your abdomen, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever. People commonly call viral gastroenteritis “stomach flu,” but the term is not medically correct. Flu viruses do not cause viral gastroenteritis.

Symptoms & Causes

The symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include watery diarrhea, pain or cramping in your abdomen, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever. Many different viruses can cause viral gastroenteritis. Viral gastroenteritis spreads through contact with small particles of an infected person’s stool or vomit.

Diagnosis

Doctors often diagnose viral gastroenteritis based on your symptoms. If your symptoms are mild and last only a short time, you typically won’t need tests. In some cases, a medical history, a physical exam, and stool tests can help diagnose viral gastroenteritis.

Treatment

In most cases, you can treat viral gastroenteritis by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. You can take steps to help prevent viral gastroenteritis, such as washing your hands and disinfecting contaminated surfaces. Vaccines can protect children from rotavirus infections.

Eating, Diet, & Nutrition

When you have viral gastroenteritis, you may vomit after you eat or lose your appetite for a short time. When your appetite returns, you can most often go back to eating your normal diet, even if you still have diarrhea. Most experts do not recommend fasting or following a restricted diet.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.

Related Conditions & Diseases

Your Digestive System & How it Works

The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract-also called the digestive tract-and the liver, pancreas, and the gallbladder. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus.

Related Research

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank Mary Estes, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine