Digestive Health

Updated 04 May 2017

Symptoms of gastroenteritis

With gastroenteritis, the symptoms may vary hugely – from watery diarrhea to stomach pain to nausea and headaches.


Typical symptoms of gastroenteritis include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhoea entails the frequent passing of very runny stools. [Viral diarrhoea is watery, whereas bacterial diarrhoea contains mucous and visible blood, and may be very smelly. (When blood and pus are present in the diarrhoea it is termed dysentery.)]
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Fever
  • Other general symptoms of being unwell such as headache

Upper gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain) can be dominant with some causes of gastroenteritis e.g. staphylococcal food poisoning.

Lower gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhoea) are found with other conditions like cholera. Sometimes there may be a combination of upper and lower gastrointestinal symptoms occurring with many causes of gastroenteritis such as Rotavirus.

Dehydration is an important sign of advanced and possibly untreated gastroenteritis.
Watch out for these symptoms of serious dehydration:

  • Dry mucous membranes in the mouth
  • Loss of the normal elasticity of the skin
  • In babies, sunken eyes or sunken fontanelle (the soft spot at the top of a baby's head)
  • Fast breathing
  • A drop in urine output
  • Weight loss over days or even hours
  • Listlessness or lethargy

Read more:

Treating gastroenteritis

Diagnosing gastroenteritis

Preventing 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 EftyhiaVardas 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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