IN THIS ARTICLE
When to Seek Medical Care
Most often gastroenteritis is self-limiting, but it can cause significant problems with dehydration. Should that be a concern, contacting a primary care professional is reasonable.
Vomiting blood or having bloody or black bowel movements are not normal, and emergency care should be sought. Some medications such as iron or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) can turn stool black in color.
Fever, increasing severity of abdominal pain, and persistent symptoms should not be ignored and seeking medical care should be considered.
Gastroenteritis is often self-limiting, and the care is supportive designed to control symptoms and prevent dehydration. Tests may not be needed. The health care professional often may make the diagnosis based on history of symptoms and physical examination.
If the symptoms persist for a prolonged period of time blood and stool tests may be appropriate to determine the cause of the vomiting and diarrhea.
Patient History and Physical Examination
Taking a thorough history and physical examination is very helpful in making the diagnosis.
Questions asked by the health care professional may include:
These questions help determine the potential risk of dehydration. Other questions to help assess hydration also may include the amount and frequency of urination, weight loss, lightheadedness, and fainting (syncope).
Other information in the medical history that may be helpful in the diagnosis of gastroenteritis include:
Physical examination will look for other causes of vomiting and/or diarrhea unrelated to gastroenteritis. If there are specific tender areas in the abdomen, the doctor may want to determine if the patient has one of the following, or any other conditions that may be the cause of the patient’s symptoms:
Other noninfectious gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or microscopic colitis also must be considered. The doctor will feel the abdomen for masses. A rectal examination may be considered, where the physician inspects the anus for any abnormalities and then inserts a finger into the rectum to feel for any masses. Stool obtained during this test may be tested for the presence of blood.
The doctor may order other laboratory tests, including:
Stool samples may be collected and tested for white blood cells, red blood cells and different types of infections.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/11/2016
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE
Must Read Articles Related to Gastroenteritis
Patient Comments & Reviews
The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu):
Gastroenteritis - Medications
What medications (OTC or prescription) were effective in treating your gastroenteritis (stomach flu)?
Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu) - Symptoms
How long did the symptoms of your gastroenteritis (stomach flu) last? Was there anything in particular that helped with pain/symptom relief?
Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu) - Treatment
What treatment was effective for your gastroenteritis (stomach flu)?
Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu) - Causes
What caused your Stomach Flu?
Digestive Disorders Resources
- Is It Okay to Take a Stool Softener Every Day?
- 9 Questions to Ask Before Having Surgery
- Your Treatment Options for Constipation