Gastrointestinal problems occur when the mucous membrane of the digestive tract is inflamed, irritated and infected. Vomiting, diarrhea, aches and fever may accompany gastrointestinal problems. Common causes of gastrointestinal problems are viruses, food-borne illness, a reaction to new foods or the side effects of medications, according to the Mayo Clinic. Gastrointestinal problems may last from one day to more than a week, depending on the cause, but can be easily treated at home.
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Stop eating. According to the Mayo Clinic, forgoing food and drink for a while is the first step to treating all gastrointestinal problems. Doctors recommend resting the digestive tract for several hours. Not eating or drinking until vomiting has passed is important, allowing the stomach time to settle, says the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).
Avoid dehydration. The diarrhea and vomiting that come with gastrointestinal problems can cause rapid dehydration, especially for children. After vomiting has stopped, drinking becomes vital to avoid dehydration, says the Mayo Clinic. Drinking oral hydration solutions or water should be encouraged; however, if drinking cannot be tolerated, frequent sips or even nibbling on ice chips can be the first step to preventing dehydration.
Get some rest. Gastroenteritis can leave you feeling weak and tired. The Mayo Clinic suggests resting for optimal healing. If it can be tolerated, consider taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) to relieve the discomfort of gastroenteritis, especially if fever is present. This will allow a better quality of sleep. Acetaminophen is gentler on the digestive tract than other over-the-counter pain relievers.
Ease back into eating foods. Bland, easy-to-digest foods are your first choices, says the Mayo Clinic. Consider the BRAT diet after the nausea abates. BRAT is an acronym for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Along with soda crackers, gelatin and chicken broth, these foods are gentle and simple for the body to digest. Avoid all dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, fatty foods and highly seasoned foods, says the Mayo Clinic.
Don’t bother with antibiotics. According to the NDDIC, gastroenteritis is viral in nature and antibiotics are useless against the problem. Unless prescribed by a doctor, antibiotics should be avoided, as they will irritate the digestive tract.
Prevent further infection. Although there is no actual cure for gastrointestinal problems, says the NDDIC, thorough hand washing and prompt disinfection of surfaces, bedding and clothing is important to prevent spreading of the infection. Avoid any food or liquids that are known to be contaminated.