Digestive Health

Updated 04 May 2017

Diagnosing gastroenteritis

A diagnosis of gastroenteritis will be made by a doctor, who will start off by taking a complete history of your symptoms.


Diagnosing gastroenteritis is usually based on symptoms and medically examining a patient. It is not essential to know exactly which virus or bacteria caused the condition as treatment using specific drugs is rare (see "treatment").

However, it can be useful to tell your doctor whether you have been in contact with other symptomatic people who may have passed on a particular micro-organism. It’s also important to mention whether you have been exposed to other common risk factors like recent travel.

Determining whether gastroenteritis is caused by a rotavirus in a child is easily determined by laboratory testing of a stool sample. Tests to determine other viruses as causes are not routinely used as they are both unnecessary and unlikely to significantly affect how the patient is treated.

In cases of dysentery, a fresh stool specimen may be examined under the microscope for parasites such as Entamoebahistolytica (which causes amoebic dysentery). In addition, a bacterial culture may be done to identify the culprit.

Read more: 

Causes of gastroenteritis

Symptoms of gastroenteritis

Treating gastroenteritis

Reviewed by Dr Karin Richter, MMed Path (Medical Virology), FC Path(SA) Viro, Dip HIV Man (SA), Dip Obst (SA), MBChB , Clinical Virologist, Senior Lecturer, Department of Medical Virology, University of Pretoria, Faculty of Health Sciences, and Consultant Pathologist, Tshwane Academic Division, National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS)

Previously reviewed by Dr Eftyhia Vardas BSc (Hons), MBBCh, DTM&H, DPH, FC Path (Virol), MMed (Virol), Clinical Virologist, Director HIV AIDS Vaccine Division.  


Ask the Expert

Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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