Updated 25 July 2018

Symptoms of gastroenteritis

Nauseous? Vomiting? Suffering from diarrhoea? You may have gastroenteritis.

Typical symptoms of gastroenteritis include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea – 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’s called dysentery.
  • Abdominal pain and cramps.
  • Low-grade fever.
  • Other general symptoms of being unwell such as headache and fatigue.
  • 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. This occurs 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.

Symptoms generally last for about 2 to 5 days and then begin to resolve.

Symptoms of gastroenteritis in children:

Children with gastroenteritis generally also have diarrhoea, but can also have some other symptoms. These include:

  • Refusing to eat or drink, or being very thirsty.
  • Increased, decreased or no urine output.
  • Weight loss.
  • Lethargy.
  • Bloody diarrhoea.
  • Dehydration.

Reviewed by Kim Hofmann, registered dietitian, BSc Medical (Honours) Nutrition and Dietetics, BSc (Honours) Psychology. December 2017.