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Gastroenteritis in Children: A Caregiver's Guide for Parents

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Dec 15, 2022

    Gastroenteritis in Children: A Caregiver's Guide for Parents

    If you notice that your child is experiencing stomach discomfort, there is a chance that they may have gastroenteritis. It is the inflammation of the stomach and/or intestines, typically resulting from either bacterial toxins or viral infection. Its most common presentation is the combination of vomiting and diarrhea, or at least one of the two. If this occurs more often, they may have what doctors call recurrent gastroenteritis in children.

    Here are some important facts about gastroenteritis – from causes to symptoms, and home remedies for gastroenteritis in toddlers.

    What Is Gastroenteritis?

    Gastroenteritis is an infection of the stomach and small intestines that is caused typically by a virus, bacteria, or a parasite. The infection causes a person’s intestines and stomach to become inflamed and irritated.

    People often call it the “stomach flu,” but it is not the same as influenza. Real influenza or flu mainly affects the respiratory system, while gastroenteritis attacks the intestines. The most common virus that causes gastroenteritis is called rotavirus.

    Signs and Symptoms

    The presentation of gastroenteritis vary from case to case, depending on the causative agent that infected the patient. For most viral infection, symptoms can be mild to moderate. While for bacterial ones, symptoms may last longer, and may have a more severe manifestation of the disease. However, the signs and symptoms can be generalized and summarized into the following:

    • Watery diarrhea. Typically, it is non-bloody. If you notice that there is blood in your stool, you may have a different kind of infection that is more severe. If this occurs, consult your doctor.
    • Abdominal pain and cramps
    • Vomiting and nausea can often appear along with other symptoms 
    • Headaches
    • Muscle aches
    • Low-grade fever

    Gastroenteritis can range in severity. For mild cases, people may experience mild diarrhea and an upset stomach with mild symptoms for 1-2 days.

    However, in more severe cases, people may experience vomiting and severe diarrhea that may last longer. 

    When should we see a pediatrician?

    If your child cannot tolerate any liquid or solid food, is lethargic or is experiencing persistent vomiting, please bring the child to the hospital as soon as possible.

    What Causes Gastroenteritis in children?

    You can contract the virus or bacteria that causes gastroenteritis via person-to-person contact or by touching vomit, feces, or an infected person’s hands. Another way you can get it is by consuming contaminated food or drinks.

    If you are wondering how recurrent gastroenteritis in children occurs, it is usually due to poor personal hygiene.

    For instance, your child may contract it by touching an animal that has the virus/ bacteria. It is important to teach your children to regularly wash their hands and help them learn how to avoid contaminated drinks and food.

    Contaminated food and drinks do not always mean “dirty” food and drinks. There is a chance that a person can get gastroenteritis by consuming unpasteurized juice or milk, contaminated shellfish, inadequately cooked eggs, or meat. 

    Possible Complications of Gastroenteritis

    A serious condition for most people, especially young children and babies who are prone to dehydration, is acute gastroenteritis with dehydration. While many cases of gastroenteritis tend to be mild and manageable, some cases can develop into hypoglycemia and dehydration due to prolonged diarrhea and vomiting.

    Other complication includes electrolyte imbalances and irritant diaper dermatitis.


    While the symptoms of gastroenteritis are easy to spot, it is easy to confuse the condition with other health issues. Therefore, it would be best to bring your child to the doctor to diagnose them properly, especially if they are showing signs of dehydration.

    At the consultation, your doctor will perform a routine physical exam on your child and may ask about your child’s medical history.

    In some cases, the doctor may request for a stool sample to determine the cause of the disease. This is usually necessary if a child experiences severe symptoms and has endured them for more than 48 hours.

    History taking and physical exam is necessary. Don’t lie to your doctor. Laboratory evaluation may be done as well; aside from stool sampling and analysis, CBC, electrolytes and stool studies might be needed.

    Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies

    If your child experiences severe symptoms, it is best to take them to the doctor right away. The symptoms of gastroenteritis can be taxing on a child, especially in babies and young children. A doctor would also be able to prescribe the appropriate type of treatment for your child’s case. 

    If your child is experiencing very mild symptoms, you can try safe and effective home remedies for gastroenteritis in toddlers. An excellent way to help a child recover faster is by making sure that they drink enough fluids and get enough bed rest. For babies, breastfeeding may be ideal to help them stay hydrated.

    You should avoid giving your child drinks that contain sugar or caffeine or dairy products. These might worsen the diarrhea, causing them to lose more fluids. If your child is frequently vomiting, it would be ideal to offer them regular yet small amounts of liquid, with increasing amount throughout the day. It would be wise to not force them to drink a lot of water right away.

    Additionally, one of the approved home remedies for gastroenteritis in toddlers is to put your child on a tummy-friendly diet. Offer them easily digestible foods that will not irritate their stomach. Even if your child is not lactose-intolerant, it may be wise to avoid giving them dairy for a while.

    It is also important to note that prevention is better than cure. For instance, one type of virus that can cause gastroenteritis is rotavirus. To avoid acute this, have your children get their rotavirus vaccination, and other necessary vaccinations.

    As another preventive measure, it would be ideal to teach your children to properly and regularly wash their hands. If they are unsure about whether food is safe to eat or not, teach them to avoid it instead.

    If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

    Key Takeaway

    Gastroenteritis can be either mild or severe. It is a condition that must be closely monitored especially if it develops into recurrent gastroenteritis in children. Remember the tips above to better protect your child, and consult your doctor for any concerns.

    Learn more about child health, here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jezreel Esguerra, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Dec 15, 2022

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