Gastrointestinal diseases: Causes, symptoms, and treatment
The gastrointestinal tract comprises not only the stomach and the intestines but all organs that are involved in taking up and digesting food. This includes the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestines. With a length between 5.5 to 7.5 meters, the intestines are the most important part of the digestive tract.
The causes and symptoms of gastrointestinal or digestive tract diseases can vary greatly. The most common gastrointestinal diseases are inflammation and infection, but nausea, diarrhoea and heartburn (medical: reflux) or food poisoning can also be the reason for queasiness. The diseases can be acute, such as with stomach flu, or chronic, such as in Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The causes range from a genetic predisposition to infections by pathogens, taking medications up to fatty food with lots of meat and not enough exercise.
Symtoms: How to recognise gastrointestinal diseases
Depending on the type of gastrointestinal disease, different symptoms appear. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea can, for example, appear with a stomach flu, viral and bacterial infections. Heartburn appears when stomach acid rises up into the oesophagus (so-called sulphur burps). The following symptoms are generally typical for gastrointestinal diseases:
• Abdominal pain, cramps
• Possibly fever
Digestive disorders, diarrhoea, or travel sicknesses happen especially often on trips. One reason is insufficient hygiene at the site but unfamiliar food and spices can upset the stomach too. To prevent this experts recommend: “Cook it, boil it, peel it or forget it”. And: Ice cubes and tap water should also be avoided on long-distance travel to avoid possible contaminants.
Treatment: How gastrointestinal diseases are treated
It is important to take a lot of fluids when you have an acute gastrointestinal disease to balance out the loss of water and electrolytes through diarrhoea and vomiting – this is especially important in small children and the elderly. Tee, broth, or oral hydration solutions are suitable for this purpose. Experts do not advise taking the home remedies pretzel sticks and Coca-Cola because they contain too much sugar and salt that are ingested in uncontrolled amounts and can therefore make diarrhoea even worse. Bed rest can help if the afflicted person feels weak and tired. A warm water bottle can help soothe abdominal cramps and pain. In addition, there are various drugs that help in cases with non-specific gastrointestinal complaints, diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, or heartburn.
Gastrointestinal infection caused by rotaviruses or noroviruses
Gastrointestinal infections caused by rotaviruses1 or noroviruses2 occur most frequently during the winter months. These highly infectious viruses are transmitted from person to person by smear infection, usually resulting in severe diarrhoea and vomiting. The rota- or norovirus can also be transmitted via contaminated objects such as toilets, door handles or shared towels.
Infection with the rotavirus affects infants and toddlers under five years of age in particular, as their immature immune system is generally more susceptible to infection. In contrast, the norovirus can affect people of all ages – especially infants and the elderly – and can spread particularly rapidly in community centres, hospitals and retirement homes due to the higher risk of infection.
Typical signs of both virus infections are severe diarrhoea and vomiting, which may be accompanied by fever. The symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection caused by rotaviruses can also include cold-like symptoms such as coughs and a runny nose. The symptoms of a rotavirus infection usually subside by themselves within two to six days. The symptoms of a norovirus infection usually last between 12 and 48 hours, but those affected are contagious for up to two weeks and in some cases can still eliminate the pathogen even after the symptoms have subsided.
The Rota- and Norovirus: What you should pay attention to during treatment
For gastrointestinal infections caused by pathogens such as rotaviruses or noroviruses, treatment depends on the symptoms. For example, Bernita Pharma’s portfolio includes suitable preparations for the relief of diarrhoea symptoms, e.g. Loperamid® akut. However, the most important aspect is to compensate for the sometimes considerable loss of fluids and electrolytes caused by severe diarrhoea and vomiting – it is precisely this compensation that experts also recommend as the first step in treatment.3 The loss of fluids and electrolytes can be dangerous, especially for affected infants and elderly people, as they are more prone to dehydration. The loss of fluid can lead to circulatory problems, weakness and dizziness, which is why affected persons should drink a lot! This can include water, unsweetened tea or a glucose-electrolyte solution (prepared with, for example, the Saltadol® Glucose-Elektrolyt-Mischung [electrolyte mixture]). The salts contained in a defined ratio such as common salt, sodium citrate as well as potassium chloride and additionally glucose in the mixture ensure that the water can be absorbed in the intestine, which prevents dehydration. Particularly severe symptoms may also necessitate short-term hospitalisation.
1 Robert Koch-Institut. RKI Ratgeber Rotavirus-Gastroenteritis. Stand: 01.05.2010 Zugriff: 16.01.2020 https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/Infekt/EpidBull/Merkblaetter/Ratgeber_Rotaviren.html
2 Robert Koch-Institut. RKI Ratgeber Norovirus-Gastroenteritis. Stand: 01.07.2008 Zugriff: 16.01.2020 https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/Infekt/EpidBull/Merkblaetter/Ratgeber_Noroviren.html
3 S1-Leitlinie Akuter Durchfall der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Allgemeinmedizin (DEGAM). Stand 2013, gültig bis 09/2018. online: https://www.degam.de/files/Inhalte/Leitlinien-Inhalte/Dokumente/DEGAM-S1-Handlungsempfehlung/053-030%20Durchfall,%20akut/S1-HE_Akuter%20Durchfall_Langfassung.pdf