Dehydration & Gastroenteritis

Dehydration and gastroenteritis

Dehydration means that your body does not have as much water and fluids as it needs to function properly. It can be caused by losing too much fluid, not drinking enough fluid, or both. For example, being unwell may cause a lack of appetite and therefore decreased water intake. Certain illnesses may also cause you to lose an abnormal amount of fluid, due to symptoms such as fever, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
One of these illnesses is gastroenteritis, or “gastro”, symptoms include vomiting and watery diarrhoea. In some case these symptoms may also be accompanied by nausea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches. Due to the large amount of fluid lost through vomiting and/or diarrhoea during illnesses such as gastroenteritis, dehydration may follow.

The importance of maintaining fluids while sick

Being ill may cause higher fluid losses than normal, therefore it is important that you stay hydrated by taking in extra fluids. Dehydration from illness happens because the body cannot store water and needs a fresh supply every day. Your body needs water in order to perform nearly every metabolic process. Water is needed to:

  • maintain the health of every cell in the body
  • keep the bloodstream liquid enough to flow through the blood vessels
  • help eliminate the by‐products of metabolism
  • regulate body temperature through sweating
  • aid digestion and
  • carry nutrients and oxygen to the cells

When the water content of our bodies is too low, we become dehydrated. If fluid intake is not increased and dehydration is left untreated, medical attention may be required.

Why too much sugar may make your symptoms worse

Despite its importance, water alone is not an adequate remedy for dehydration caused by an illness such as gastro. An effective oral rehydration solution contains not only water, but also sugar and salts to help replace necessary electrolytes that are lost during diarrhoea. However, although sugar is an important part of rehydration when you have diarrhoea, too much may actually make your symptoms worse. Solutions containing more than 3 percent sugar produce an osmotic effect, which causes excess water to be drawn into the colon. This softens the intestinal contents and exacerbates diarrhoea. For this reason, fruit juices and sugary soft drinks should not be used as a treatment for dehydration. Apart from containing too much sugar, these drinks also may not contain any electrolytes, which are also essential to the rehydration process.

What can I do to stay hydrated while recovering from gastroenteritis?

There are several steps you can take to help you stay hydrated during and after an illness such as gastro. Avoid diuretics, such as caffeine, as these will increase the amount of urine produced by the body and therefore worsen dehydration. Certain foods such as dairy products, fatty foods, foods that are high in fibre and highly seasoned foods may also worsen symptoms of diarrhoea, as they are more difficult to digest and can aggravate the digestive tract. Limit these foods or avoid them altogether until symptoms subside.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the use of oral rehydration therapy for the management of dehydration due to diarrhoea. The Gastrolyte® range of oral rehydration products are designed to assist rehydration by replacing fluids and electrolytes in the body. Gastrolyte® contains both essential electrolytes and glucose, which enhances the absorption of sodium across the intestinal membrane. Gastrolyte® is available in ready to drink formulas and effervescent tablets or sachets that are dissolved in fresh drinking water.

Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin supplements should not replace a balanced diet

For more information, please visit https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/gastroenteritis

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