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The digestive system breaks down food we eat into smaller pieces and carries them into every cell in the body via the bloodstream. The condition in which the digestive system becomes inflamed is called gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis develops due to a bacterial, viral or parasitic infection contracted from contaminated food or water, an infected person, dirty utensils or unwashed hands. Although anyone can become infected, travellers, military personnel, and children in day care centres are at greater risk of developing gastroenteritis.

Symptoms of gastroenteritis include diarrhoea (main symptom), pain in the abdomen, vomiting, nausea, fever, unexplained weight loss, excessive sweating, joint stiffness or muscle pain, loss of control over bowel movements and dehydration.

Gastroenteritis can be diagnosed by reviewing your medical history. Your doctor may perform a rectal or abdominal examination and stool culture to make a more definitive diagnosis. Your body’s defence system can fight the infection. Treatment involves drinking plenty of fluids and oral rehydration solutions to reduce the risk of dehydration. Severe dehydration requires hospitalisation.

Gastroenteritis can be effectively prevented by washing your hands thoroughly before eating, drinking bottled water while travelling and cleaning your work-space in the kitchen.


  • Medical Board of Australia
  • Royal Australasian College of Physicians
  • Gastroenterological Society of Australia
  • American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
  • American Gastroenterological Association
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