Parents Corner: Gastroenteritis (Gastro)

Gastroenteritis (gastro) is a bowel infection that causes diarrhoea (runny, watery poo) and sometimes vomiting. The vomiting may settle quickly, but the diarrhoea can last up to 10 days.

Gastro can be caused by many different germs, although the most common cause of gastro is a viral infection. Most children do not need to take any medicine for gastro; however, it is important that they drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Gastro is spread easily, and is more common and severe in babies and young children. Babies under six months old can become dehydrated very easily and need to be checked by a GP if they have gastro.

Signs and symptoms of gastro

If your child has gastro, they may:

feel unwell, and not want to eat or drink

vomit in the first 24 to 48 hours (usually before diarrhoea begins)

have diarrhoea, which can last up to 10 days

have some stomach pain

have a fever

Care at home

The main treatment is to keep your child drinking fluids often such as water, oral rehydration solution, breastmilk or formula. It is very important to replace the fluids lost due to the vomiting and diarrhoea.

Gastrolyte, HYDRAlyte, Pedialyte and Repalyte are different types of oral rehydration fluid that can be used to replace fluids and body salts. These are the best option if your child is dehydrated. They are also available as icy poles, which children are often happy to have.

If your child refuses water or oral rehydration fluids, try diluted apple juice. Do not give drinks that are high in sugar (e.g. flat lemonade or sports drinks), because they can make dehydration worse. You can give your child their usual milk; however, some children may not feel like drinking milk if they have gastro.

Do not give your child over-the-counter medicines that reduce vomiting and diarrhoea, as the medicines may be harmful for children.

Children with gastro are infectious, so wash your hands thoroughly after contact with your child, particularly before feeding and after nappy changes. Keep your child away from other children as much as possible until the diarrhoea has stopped.

When to see a doctor

Babies under six months old should always be checked by a GP if they have gastro, because they are at higher risk of dehydration.

Any child with gastro should see a GP if they:

are vomiting and have diarrhoea, and are not drinking

have a lot of diarrhoea (eight to 10 watery poos, or two or three large poos per day) or if the diarrhoea is not improving after 10 days

vomit frequently and seem unable to keep any fluids down

show signs of dehydration e.g. fewer wet nappies or not going to the toilet much, dark yellow or brown wee, feel lightheaded or dizzy, have dry lips and mouth

have a bad stomach pain

have any blood in their poo

have green vomit

are making you worried for any other reason

Key points to remember

Babies under six months old with gastro can become dehydrated very easily and need to be checked by a GP.

Offer babies a drink every time they vomit. Keep breastfeeding. If bottle feeding, give oral rehydration solution for the first 12 hours.

Give children small amounts of fluid often.

Your baby or child is infectious, so regularly wash your hands thoroughly, particularly before feeding and after nappy changes.

Take your child to the doctor if they are becoming dehydrated, have bad stomach pain or you are worried.

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