Acute Gastroenteritis

This post is also available in: Français (French) Español (Spanish)

What is acute gastroenteritis?

Acute gastroenteritis (AGE), also known as a 'stomach bug,' happens when tiny germs like bacteria, viruses, or parasites infect the stomach and intestines and cause inflammation. It's common in kids and can happen to anyone. AGE usually sticks around for a few days, causing things like diarrhea, vomiting, belly pain, and sometimes fever.

Here are what these symptoms mean:

  • Diarrhea: Having poop that's watery, loose, or very frequent.
  • Vomiting: When the stomach forcefully pushes out its contents through the mouth.
  • Belly pain: Feeling uncomfortable or crampy in the belly.
  • Nausea: Feeling of needing to throw up.

What causes AGE?

AGE is often spread through contaminated food or water or by encountering infected surfaces or people. Poor hygiene practices, consuming undercooked or contaminated food, and lack of proper sanitation are common risk factors.

For kids, viruses are the most common cause of AGE, with rotavirus and norovirus being the leading germs. These can spread very easily among children in daycare or school. Bacterial infections, like Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter, can also result in similar symptoms and are associated with contaminated or undercooked foods. Finally, parasitic infections are a less common cause and can be associated with drinking lake or river water or with farm animal exposure.

Doctors diagnose AGE based on the child's symptoms and medical history. Sometimes they might want to check a small sample of your child’s poop to understand more.

How can I take care of my child if they have AGE?

Usually, you can care for your child at home without needing to see the doctor or go to the hospital. Here are some important things to do:

  • Drink Enough Fluids: Make sure your child drinks lots of liquids, including special drinks for rehydration that include electrolytes (like Pedialyte, Enfalyte, or the store brand). This helps avoid dehydration.
  • Eat Simple Foods: Give your child plain and easy-to-digest foods. Avoid foods that are greasy, spicy, or have lots of dairy until your child feels better.
  • Rest: Make sure your child gets plenty of rest to help them recover.
  • Medicine: Don't use over-the-counter medicines like loperamide or Imodium for diarrhea unless your child's doctor says it's okay.

Are there ways to prevent AGE?

Yes, there are ways to keep your child from getting AGE:

  • Clean Hands: Teach your child to wash their hands well with soap and water, especially before eating and after going to the bathroom.
  • Safe Food: Make sure the food your child eats is cooked and stored the right way. Don't let them eat meats that aren't fully cooked, raw eggs, or dairy that hasn't been pasteurized. Wash fresh produce before eating.
  • Keep Things Clean: Regularly clean items and surfaces that get touched a lot when there's a sickness going around.
  • Stay Apart: Tell your child to avoid getting too close to sick people. They should also cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze.
  • Vaccination: Vaccinate your infant against Rotavirus, which is a major cause of severe viral AGE in babies and young children.

When should I call my child’s doctor or seek medical attention?

Call your child’s doctor if:

  • Symptoms worsen or don't improve after a few days.
  • You see signs of dehydration (dry mouth, dark urine, cracked lips, dizziness).
  • A high fever lasts for more than a couple days.
  • There is blood your child’s poop or throw up.
  • If your child is under 6 months old.

Date: 8/24/23
Authors: Tebyan Rabbani, MD and Amethyst Kurbegov, MD, MPH
Editor: Christine Waasdorp Hurtado, MD

Gastroenteritis Video – Based on Report from Gastritis Expert Team

This post is also available in: Français (French) Español (Spanish)

North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
The Association of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Nurses
North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Foundation
The NASPGHAN Council For Pediatric Nutrition Professionals
Share This