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What Is the Treatment for a Gastrointestinal Infection?

A gastrointestinal infection typically causes diarrhea.
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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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In most cases, a gastrointestinal infection will go away on its own after a few days and does not require any specific medical treatment. Proper hydration is important, so plenty of fluids should be consumed during recovery. Over-the-counter or prescription medications may be used to treat the nausea associated with a gastrointestinal infection, although medications aimed at treating diarrhea are not usually recommended. Depending on the cause of the infection, antibiotics, antiviral medications, or anti-parasitic drugs may be prescribed. Any specific questions or concerns about the best gastrointestinal infection treatment options for an individual situation should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

Maintaining proper hydration is one of the chief concerns when a gastrointestinal infection is present. Drinking plenty of fluids is often enough to prevent dehydration. In addition to water and fruit juices, soup or broth may be recommended. By combining these foods and beverages, both fluids and electrolytes are replaced in the body. If dehydration occurs, the patient may need to receive intravenous fluids in a hospital setting.

Nausea and diarrhea are the most common symptoms associated with a gastrointestinal infection. If the nausea becomes severe and it is difficult to keep fluids down, over-the-counter or prescription anti-nausea medications may be helpful. The use of medications designed to treat diarrhea is usually discouraged, as this would slow the exit of the source of infection.

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Antibiotics are not normally prescribed for a bacterial gastrointestinal infection in an otherwise healthy person. These medications have a tendency to increase the severity of symptoms such as diarrhea. Those with compromised immune systems may be given antibiotics, as the benefits would then outweigh the potential risks. Anti-parasitic medications may be prescribed if the infection is found to be caused by a parasite, or anti-viral medications may be prescribed for viral infections.

The best treatment options during a gastrointestinal infection are usually adequate fluid intake and plenty of rest. This is a relatively common affliction and will generally resolve on its own within a week. If symptoms persist or become severe, a doctor should be consulted for further medical evaluation. Medications may be given to help ease the symptoms, or a short stay in the hospital may be indicated if dehydration becomes severe and is not able to be adequately treated at home. It is always best to have the infection diagnosed by a doctor, as some more serious medical conditions may have similar symptoms.

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Discuss this Article

OeKc05
Post 9

@LisaLou – Stressing out can worsen a gastrointestinal infection, and it can cause you to eventually develop irritable bowel syndrome. This is because people who are stressed tend to not rest while sick, so they don't recover very fast. The longer your intestinal tract remains irritated, the better your chances of developing chronic issues.

My mother stressed out a lot, and she frequently got gastrointestinal infections. She felt like she could not take time off to care for herself, so she kept going even while ill. It got to the point where she felt sick more often than not, and her doctor diagnosed her with irritable bowel syndrome.

Because of this, I think that bed rest and relaxation are essential treatment for this kind of infection. If I get sick at my stomach, I refuse to run errands until I'm all better.

Oceana
Post 8

@sunnySkys – I always took medicine to stop my diarrhea, as well. It just seems so wrong to let your body keep losing so much fluid!

I usually waited until my diarrhea became very watery to take medicine for it. By this time, it had become painful to wipe, and I had to do something.

I didn't know until last year that I shouldn't be taking that medicine. My husband told me, so I laid off it. When it got painful to wipe, I used petroleum jelly on my toilet paper to soothe the area, and this helped so much.

I got better within two days, as opposed to the week it used to take me to recover. It is still so hard to just let the infection run its course, though!

lighth0se33
Post 7

I got what my parents thought was a simple gastrointestinal infection as a child. However, after hours of vomiting and diarrhea, they became fearful that I would dehydrate myself, so they took me to the emergency room.

The doctor said I had rotavirus. Kids die from this if they are not treated, because their bodies dehydrate so quickly.

I had to stay in the hospital for five days. During that time, I received shots to treat my nausea and intravenous liquids. No one other than my parents, who had already been exposed, was allowed to visit, because it was highly contagious.

This was back in the days before the rotavirus vaccine was introduced. You don't hear about many kids getting it now.

Perdido
Post 6

I got a lot of gastrointestinal infections as a child. I missed a lot of school, because I couldn't have left class every time I needed to use the bathroom, which was every few minutes.

I remember my mother giving me anti-nausea suppositories. I hated having them inserted, but it was better than puking all day long. Of course, this treatment only worked when I had only nausea and not diarrhea.

When I had both, all I could do was eat gelatin and chicken soup. I also ate plenty of popsicles and drank juice and water.

SZapper
Post 5

When I have a gastrointestinal infection, I like to try natural remedies first. Colloidal silver is my favorite one, as it tends to be the one that works the best. I usually keep a bottle in the house and take some at the first sign of an infection. I think it definitely helps shorten the duration and severity of the symptoms.

Monika
Post 4

@sunnySkys - It's hard to think straight when you're that sick though. All you can think about is just feeling better! I don't blame you for taking some medicine, even though it was the wrong thing to do.

Anyway, I think it's lucky that most gastrointestinal infections don't require a visit to the doctor. I can't imagine trying to transport myself to a doctors office while I was in the kind of condition.

I think staying hydrated is really half the battle, too. As the article said, a lot of times when people are have to go to the doctor or be hospitalized because of a gastrointestinal infection, it's because of dehydration. I actually like to keep some Gatorade powder in the house just in case of stomach troubles. It keeps for a long time, and then you don't have to worry about going anywhere while you're sick!

sunnySkys
Post 3

I'm actually just getting over a gastrointestinal infection, and I wanted to know if I did the right thing as far as treatment! It turns out, I did not. I took some anti-diarrhea medicine, thinking it would help me feel better. It sounds like it actually may have prolonged the illness.

I was sick for two days, and I have a sneaking suspicion I would have only been sick for 24 hours if I had just let the infection run it's course. I was so miserable I felt like I had to take some medicine, but it turns out I should have just drank water!

LisaLou
Post 2

Are gastrointestinal infections something that are contagious or can they also be stress related?

The week before my daughter got married, both of us came down with this type of infection. The biggest symptoms were an upset stomach, headache and diarrhea.

We were both under a lot of stress, and I think that is what the cause of the symptoms were. It is also easy to forget about staying hydrated when you are under stress like that.

I always tried to keep a bottle of water with me and remember that everything would fall in place and work out OK. I just know I felt much better when the wedding was over and life returned to normal.

golf07
Post 1

There is never a good time to have a gastrointestinal infection, but the worst times are when you are traveling and away from home.

This happened to me when I was on a trip with my fiance and his family. Of all times to get sick this was the worst time it could have happened.

It was embarrassing as well as inconvenient. We were on a ski trip, and the last thing I wanted to do was ruin the vacation for everyone else. If I was contagious, I also didn't want them to get what I had.

My fiances mom is a nurse, so she was very helpful and understanding. The only thing I could do was stay in the room, rest and drink plenty of fluids. I felt better after a few days, but was not the way I wanted to spend my vacation.

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