The What, Why, How and When of Gastro

stomach irritation

Our ‘guts’ are amazing, but sometimes they just don’t function as we want them to – and having gastroenteritis or ‘gastro’ is one of those times.

When ‘gastro’ strikes lots of questions start running through your head – apart from the immediate practical ones such as “Where’s the nearest bathroom?” and “Do I have enough toilet paper?” –there are the what, why, how and when of gastro…

What is gastro?

Gastro is usually a short-lived problem triggered by an infection or irritation of your stomach and intestines – which commonly leaves you having to deal with sudden attacks of diarrhoea and bloating, feeling sick or vomiting and a fever. You may also feel like you have the flu, with aching limbs, feeling tired and headaches.

Why me?

If you have gastro it probably means you have picked up an infection from contaminated food or water, or from someone else with the disease.

  • Viruses, such as norovirus or rotavirus, can be highly contagious and are the most common causes of gastro
  • Bacteria, such as salmonella and campylobacter, often cause outbreaks of food poisoning or tummy troubles when travelling
  • Parasites, such as giardia and cryptosporidium, are a less common problem, but can still cause uncomfortable, miserable gastro problems

Gastro can also occasionally be caused by other non-infectious things such as reactions to certain medications (e.g. antibiotics) or chemicals (e.g. lead poisoning).

How long will it last?

The good news with gastro is that it usually only lasts a few days –  so when sudden diarrhoea and vomiting knock you for six the best thing to do is stay at home and rest until you’re feeling better.

Usually, there is no specific treatment for gastro – but you can help things along by:

  • Making sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids such as water or electrolyte rehydration drinks (available from pharmacies and supermarkets)
  • When you feel like eating again – trying small amounts of plain food

Sometimes using antidiarrheal products, such as Gastro-Stop which contains loperamide, can help when you really need to ‘stop that dash’ to the nearest loo. If an uncomfortable build-up of gas in your stomach and intestines is causing you problems, then Gastro- Stop Plus may help. As well as loperamide, it contains the ingredient simethicone which helps reduce gas-related discomfort. Ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice about whether these products are suitable for you.

Remember infectious gastroenteritis can spread very easily, so wash your hands regularly particularly after going to the toilet and before handling any food – use soap and water rather than hand sanitizers, and paper towels rather than cloth ones. It’s a good idea to try and stay away from other people until you are feeling better.

When should I see a doctor?

Usually, you will gradually start to feel better after a day or so. But sometimes things can get a bit more ‘serious’ – so if you haven’t started to improve after 24-48 hours or you’ve any of the following warning signs, see a doctor:

  • You feel dizzy or lightheaded, or are only passing small amounts of (or no) urine, getting confused or losing consciousness – all these are symptoms of severe dehydration
  • You’re vomiting all the time and can’t keep any fluids down
  • You’ve had diarrhoea for several days or your diarrhoea is bloody
  • You’ve a fever over 38oC
  • You’ve developed a worrying stomach (abdominal) pain

Not sure what to do? The Healthdirect Symptom checker ( may help you decide what’s appropriate – you can find out what to do, where to go and more about your symptoms. But if you think you need medical assistance, call your doctor immediately or dial triple zero (000).