Gastroenteritis is a very common condition that causes diarrhoea and vomiting. It's usually caused by a bacterial or viral tummy bug.It affects people of all ages, but is particularly common in young children.Most cases in children are caused by a virus called rotavirus. Cases in adults are usually caused by norovirus (the "winter vomiting bug") or bacterial food poisoning. Gastroenteritis can be very unpleasant, but it usually clears up by itself within a week. You can normally look after yourself or your child at home until you're feeling better.Try to avoid going to your doctor, as gastroenteritis can spread to others very easily. Call your doctor if you're concerned or need any advice.
The main symptoms of gastroenteritis are:
Some people also have other symptoms, such as a loss of appetite, an upset stomach , aching limbs and headaches . The symptoms usually appear up to a day after becoming infected. They typically last less than a week, but can sometimes last longer.
If you experience sudden diarrhoea and vomiting, the best thing to do is stay at home until you're feeling better. There's not always a specific treatment, so you have to let the illness run its course.You don't usually need to get medical advice, unless your symptoms don't improve or there's a risk of a more serious problem (see When to get medical advice ).To help ease your symptoms:
Gastroenteritis can spread very easily, so you should wash your hands regularly while you're ill and stay off work or school until at least 48 hours after your symptoms have cleared, to reduce the risk of passing it on (see Preventing gastroenteritis).
You don't normally need to see your doctor if you think you have gastroenteritis, as it should get better on its own.Visiting your doctor surgery can put others at risk, so it's best to call your doctor if you're concerned or feel you need advice.Get medical advice if:
Your doctor may suggest sending off a sample of your poo to a laboratory to check what's causing your symptoms. Antibiotics may be prescribed if this shows you have a bacterial infection.
You can look after your child at home if they have diarrhoea and vomiting. There's not usually any specific treatment and your child should start feeling better in a few days.You don't normally need to get medical advice unless their symptoms don't improve or there's a risk of a more serious problem (see Getting medical advice for your child ).To help ease your child's symptoms:
Babies and young children, especially if they're less than a year old, have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated. Read advice about looking after babies and children under five who have diarrhoea and vomiting. Make sure you and your child wash your hands regularly while your child is ill and keep them away from school or nursery until at least 48 hours after their symptoms have cleared (see Preventing gastroenteritis).
You don't usually need to see your doctor if you think your child has gastroenteritis, as it should get better on its own, and taking them to a doctor surgery can put others at risk.Call your doctor if you're concerned about your child, or they:
Your doctor may suggest sending off a sample of your child's poo to a laboratory to confirm what's causing their symptoms. Antibiotics may be prescribed if this shows they have a bacterial infection.
The bugs that cause gastroenteritis can spread very easily from person to person.You can catch the infection if small particles of vomit or poo from an infected person get into your mouth, such as through:
A person with gastroenteritis is most infectious from when their symptoms start until 48 hours after all their symptoms have passed, although they may also be infectious for a short time before and after this.
It's not always possible to avoid getting gastroenteritis, but following the advice below can help stop it spreading:
Take extra care when travelling to parts of the world with poor sanitation, as you could pick up a stomach bug. For example, you may need to boil tap water before drinking it. Young children can have the rotavirus vaccination when they’re two to three months old, which can reduce their risk of developing gastroenteritis.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.