Gastrointestinal flu: symptoms, duration, nutrition, doctor’s intestine

Especially in winter, many people get gastrointestinal flu, doctors talk about gastroenteritis. The rest of the year put patients with vomiting diarrhea often consult their family doctor. Gastrointestinal flu is inflammation of the stomach and intestines, usually caused by viruses or bacteria. The disease has nothing to do with a typical flu, influenza. The body develops the symptoms to clean itself and to get rid of the pathogens as quickly as possible. After a few days, the spook is mostly over. Special medication is not necessary. It is especially important for babies and older people to pay attention to the necessary hydration.

What causes gastrointestinal flu?

If the mucous membranes of the stomach and small intestine become inflamed at the same time, a viral or bacterial infection is often the cause. The colon can also be affected. Rarely, parasites, medication, X-rays or radioactive radiation can be responsible for gastroenteritis. The pathogens get into the mouth by smear infection or contaminated food and from there pass through the digestive tract until the body excretes them again with bowel movements.

The acute damage to the gastric mucosa by viruses, bacteria or its toxins reports the command to the control center in the brain to induce nausea: the body tries to get rid of the attackers immediately by vomiting. The following diarrhea has the same background. As soon as the pathogens arrive in the intestine, they also attack the mucous membrane and cause inflammation.

Viruses that often cause gastrointestinal flu:

Bacteria that often cause gastrointestinal flu:

  • salmonellae
  • Shigella
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Yersinia
  • Escherichia coli

Parasites that are rarely responsible for gastroenteritis in Germany:

Other causes of gastrointestinal flu

Strong medication, for example as part of chemotherapy for cancer or radiation treatments, can also destroy the mucous membranes in the stomach and intestines. The following symptoms are similar to those of an infectious gastrointestinal flu.

Course and symptoms: How gastrointestinal flu works

Doctors like to talk about vomiting diarrhea when it comes to gastroenteritis. The term perfectly sums up the typical symptoms of gastrointestinal flu. Since the causative germs work from the mouth through the stomach through the intestine, many people initially experience nausea and vomiting. The diarrhea follows after hours to a few days. Of course, both symptoms can occur in parallel, which significantly increases the risk of the body drying out.

Other possible symptoms of gastroenteritis include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • severe flatulence and abdominal pain
  • anorexia
  • dizziness
  • skin rash
  • Mucus or blood in the stool

How long an acute gastrointestinal flu lasts depends entirely on the pathogen. Doctors expect healthy people to develop around two days for vomiting and between two and ten days for diarrhea.

Therapy: How the doctor treats gastrointestinal flu

As long as the sick person is not a baby, a toddler or an old person, you have the option to wait and see. Infectious gastrointestinal flu usually goes away on its own. The real problem is the loss of water and salt (electrolytes).

If the fluid balance gets out of balance, this can have serious consequences for the circulation and thus the blood flow to all vital organs. Your doctor will first recommend that you drink a lot. Still mineral water is just as suitable as mild teas. Soft drinks, coffee, fruit juice and alcohol irritate the stomach and intestines and do not help.

Don’t just keep an eye on your fluid balance. Also, think about salt loss from vomiting and diarrhea, which can be particularly dangerous for children. If necessary, you can get so-called oral rehydration solutions (ORS) in the pharmacy. You dissolve the electrolyte powder in water according to the instructions and bring your sugar and salt balance back into balance with the intake. Use this medication sparingly and consult the pediatrician, especially for young patients.

Which drugs are useful for gastrointestinal flu

The family doctor will not treat an uncomplicated course with medication. If bacteria are the trigger for gastroenteritis, antibiotics may be used. Especially in premature babies, people who suffer from a weak immune system and complicated disease courses, the active ingredients can shorten the duration of the disease and reduce the severity.

A typical viral gastrointestinal flu has to fight the immune system alone. In order to support the sick organism and possibly avoid hospitalization with infusion therapy, you can find various medications for vomiting and diarrhea in the pharmacy. But always keep in mind that the body with its unpleasant reaction only tries to get rid of the germs in the quickest way. Preventing him from this, for example by stopping diarrhea with a preparation like loperamide that slows down bowel movements, is likely to prolong the duration of the gastrointestinal flu.

secretion inhibitors

The active ingredient Racecadotril is useful. It inhibits the release of water into the intestine and can thus protect against dehydration. The drug is also available for children. Your pediatrician will advise you.


Medications for vomiting can be useful if the stomach needs a break from seemingly unquenchable vomiting. The active ingredient dimenhydrinate works directly in the vomiting center of the brain and also makes you tired. An hour of sleep in between can calm the digestive system.


Living microorganisms such as lactic acid bacteria have the ability to regenerate the intestinal flora attacked by pathogens. If you take probiotics for a gastrointestinal flu, you have a good chance of reducing the length of your diarrhea.

How to treat gastrointestinal flu at home

Eat healthy again after a first tea break. Your gut needs food so that the important digestive cells of the mucous membrane do not starve and have to be rebuilt with difficulty. First of all, rely on light food. Eat light meals, avoid fat and sweets. Always pay attention to your well-being. Your body will show you what foods you can take. Start with rice slime and a mild soup. In the next few days, bread, rice, pasta and grated apple will be suitable for the slow diet.

Home remedies for faster recovery

If you don’t need scientific studies to give therapy a chance, you can take a look at the home remedies. Naturopaths say that natural substances such as pectins in apple, healing earth, activated carbon and white clay say that they bind (adsorb) harmful substances and pathogens and can be eliminated with the stool.

Swelling agents against diarrhea

Psyllium husk and linseed are known for their regulating effects on the intestine. The so-called swelling substances bind water in the intestine, increase the volume of bowel movements and give diarrhea a firmer consistency. They envelop intestinal germs that cause illness and excrete them with the stool. In addition, they increase the time it takes for the stool to travel through the gut. The excessive bowel movements in gastroenteritis can calm down. Take a finished product with enough liquid.

The most important questions about gastrointestinal flu

How do I contract gastroenteritis??

The pathogens enter your body through smear infection or contaminated drinks and food. In winter, viruses can survive for days on doorknobs or plastic toys. Regular hand washing with soap for at least 30 seconds can protect you and your family. Disinfection of the hands is only necessary in the hospital or if a newborn lives in your family.

How long does it take from infection to the onset of gastroenteritis?

The so-called incubation period for gastrointestinal flu can range from a few hours to weeks. The period between infection and the onset of the disease is strongly based on the pathogen. Noro and rotaviruses have an incubation period of ten hours to two days, Salmonella from five hours to three days, amoebas even from one to four weeks. If it is bacterial food poisoning, the first symptoms appear after eight to 16 hours.

How do I recognize a gastrointestinal flu?

A typical gastrointestinal flu begins with nausea and vomiting, and a fever may also occur. You feel dull and chipped. After a few hours or a few days, diarrhea occurs and the vomiting subsides. As long as no other serious symptoms appear and you tolerate fluids and light food, you are likely to have uncomplicated gastrointestinal flu.

How long does a gastrointestinal flu last??

Many gastrointestinal infections start very violently and resolve spontaneously within a few days. The body has cleared itself of the pathogen through vomiting and diarrhea and the immune system has fought the intruders inside. Often, the vomiting that occurs first subsides after a day or two. The diarrhea lasts an average of two to ten days.

The sooner you start eating, the faster the bowel can recover. Do not eat for too long, starve the cells of the intestinal mucosa and take time to renew themselves. Basically, the duration of the illness is related to the pathogen. A gastrointestinal flu caused by viruses passes faster than a Campylobacter disease. If bacteria are the cause, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.

What can I eat if I have gastrointestinal flu??

Take a short tea break at the beginning to give your stomach a chance to recover. Start eating as early as possible with foods that are easy to digest. Avoid fatty and sweet foods first. Rusk, toasted bread, bananas and rice slime are a good base.

Applesauce or grated apple adds pectin to the body, which can help with diarrhea. The body often tolerates pretzel sticks in moderation. Cola, on the other hand, contains too much sugar and harm the intestine in diarrhea. Drink still water or mild teas. Babies get breast milk or rice mucus best. Avoid alcohol, nicotine and coffee during gastrointestinal flu to protect your digestive tract.

Gastroenteritis is particularly dangerous in pregnancy?

The mother’s need for fluids is increased during pregnancy. Therefore, be sure to consume enough fluids and salts. Your gynecologist will advise you and monitor your pregnancy. Normally, gastrointestinal flu poses no danger to the unborn child.

When should I go to the doctor for gastroenteritis??

In general, it is important to go to the doctor early with young children and the elderly if vomiting and diarrhea occur. If you don’t see any improvement after a day, please ask your pediatrician or your family doctor for advice. Healthy schoolchildren and adults can wait up to three days. Pay attention to the following warning signs to prevent the body from drying out (dehydration):

  • acute weight loss (in infants and toddlers it becomes dangerous from 10% of the body weight)
  • dry mucous membranes in the mouth
  • decreasing amounts of urine
  • increasing wrinkling of the skin on the abdomen
  • sunken eyes
  • in infants also a sunken large fontanel on the top of the head

If you discover blood in the stool or vomit, the patient is very painful or seems very light-headed, the fever does not go down or the vomiting cannot be stopped, please go to the doctor immediately with the person concerned. A further clarification of the gastrointestinal disease is necessary immediately.

When can I go back to work after a gastrointestinal flu and when can I send my child back to kindergarten or school?

The most important criterion here is of course recovery. Those who have diarrhea and vomit are not in good hands at work or at school. So wait until the symptoms have subsided and you can start eating again. Another important point is the risk of infection for colleagues and schoolmates.

The risk is highest when the symptoms are very pronounced. Once the stool has normalized, the germs slowly disappear from the stool. The noroviruses are particularly persistent here and can still be detected in the stool up to two weeks after recovery. Laboratory physicians still find some E.coli types after three weeks and Campylobacter and Shigellen after four weeks.

If the doctor has not identified a problematic pathogen, you can go back to work after the symptoms have subsided. Nevertheless, please pay particular attention to hygiene in the bathroom and toilet for a few more days. Washing your hands regularly with soap protects people around you from the gastrointestinal pathogen.


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Christina Cherry
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