Gastrointestinal Infection - Symptoms, Risk factors and Treatment

Gastrointestinal infections are infections of the stomach or intestines. It can occur due to viruses, bacteria, or protozoa. 


Gastrointestinal infection may cause various symptoms, most commonly, they show up as;

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Muscle aches

  • Vomiting

  • Headache

  • Blood in stool

  • Mucus in stool 

  • Weight loss

  • Diarrhea

The signs and symptoms of diarrhea are;

  • Abdominal pain

  • Fever

  • Blood in the stool

  • Mucus in the stool

  • Loose, watery stools

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Bloating

  • Nausea

  • Urgent need to have a bowel movement

Long-lasting or acute diarrhea can lead to dehydration due to loss of fluid and electrolytes. Dehydration may show the signs and symptoms, such as;

  • Excessive thirst

  • Dry mouth or skin

  • Little or no urination

  • Weakness

  • Dizziness 

  • Lightheadedness

  • Fatigue

  • Dark-colored urine


Gastrointestinal infections can occur due to microbes like bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. 


Viral infections can also cause loose, watery stools. Viruses that may cause it are;

  • Norwalk virus

  • Cytomegalovirus 

  • Viral hepatitis

  • Rotavirus in children 

  • COVID- 19 also causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea


Drinking water or eating food that is contaminated can transmit bacteria to your body, eventually causing diarrhea. If you travel to developing countries and get diarrhea, it is called travelers diarrhea. Bacteria gastrointestinal infection can occur due to;

Salmonella typhi that causes typhoid

E.coli that causes bloody diarrhea


Gastrointestinal infection can occur due to;

  • Giardia lamblia causes giardiasis- a parasite that spreads through contaminated water and human contact.

  • Cryptosporidium that causes Cryptosporidiosis

Treatment of gastrointestinal infections:

Gastrointestinal infections need to be treated urgently. If left untreated, dehydration can lead to death due to severe water and electrolyte loss. The treatment of a gastrointestinal infection that causes diarrhea usually includes:

Fluid replacement: the primary goal of treating a patient with fluid loss is to replace the fluid loss that has occurred by diarrhea and vomiting. It can be done by mouth (oral rehydration therapy), or if the patient can’t take fluids by mouth, intravenous fluids (IV fluids) are administered to compensate for the fluid loss that occurred.

Electrolytes: along with fluids, many electrolytes (salts) are also lost during diarrhea and vomiting. Also, when treating cholera by fluid replacement, the potassium levels in the body can drop. To compensate for the electrolyte losses, the patient is given electrolytes and is advised to eat foods rich in potassium.

Antibiotics: If gastrointestinal infection occurs due to bacterial illness, antibiotics are administered to clear up the bacteria and resolve the infection.

Complications of gastrointestinal infection:

Gastrointestinal infection that causes diarrhea can lead to complications like;

Severe dehydration and shock: Shock is when the patient’s blood pressure starts to drop. Since a lot of fluid is lost in diarrhea infection, it can result in shock (hypovolemic shock). This causes low amounts of blood to reach different organs and thereby resulting in severe organ damage and death.

Complications other than dehydration and shock include:

Hypoglycemia - low blood sugar levels

Hypokalemia - low blood potassium levels

Renal failure - severe damage to the kidneys

Prevention of gastrointestinal infection:

Gastrointestinal infection, if left untreated, can become a serious infection. With different strategies, this infection can be prevented, such as:

Washing hands frequently: It is important to wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 15 seconds to get rid of different germs. Wash your hands properly, especially after using the toilet.

Drinking safe water: Drink water from sources you can trust are clean. Try drinking bottled or boiled water. Avoid drinking or consuming ice from street vendors. Use ice only if you have prepared it yourself with safe water. 

Cooking food properly: Vibrio cholera and other organisms can exist in seafood and vegetables if they are grown with contaminated water. To kill bacteria and viruses properly, it is essential to cook seafood and vegetables thoroughly. Avoid raw vegetables or undercooked seafood like sushi.

Vaccine: Get yourself and your family members vaccinated against gastrointestinal infections like cholera and typhoid. 


Gastrointestinal infections should be treated right away. If they are left untreated, they can become life-threatening. Therefore you should not prolong diarrhea and vomiting as it can lead to dehydration. Make sure you keep rehydrating yourself and visit the healthcare provider soon. 

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