By: Sarah Mincer, Assistant Captain, 2015
Gastroenteritis or food poisoning is most likely the cause. Food poisoning is caused by consuming contaminated food or drink, and gastroenteritis can be caused by a viral infection, bacteria, toxins, or parasites. Although the symptoms can be very similar, there are some differences between the two. Both can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which in turn can lead to dehydration. Gastroenteritis can also lead to a bloated abdomen, fever, and additional aches and pains. Although these symptoms may be uncomfortable for your patient, they are usually not life threatening.
If you respond to a call where the patient is complaining of stomach pain, you should always ask the seemingly obvious questions first: was there any trauma or did they eat anything that they may be allergic to. If they answer yes to either of these, the situation may be a little more serious and transport may be the best option. If the answer was no to both of these questions, you can move onto the rest of your assessment.
Some things that can be indicators of a more serious problem are blood in the stool or in their vomit, a high fever, symptoms lasting more than three days, or prolonged vomiting that prevents intake of any liquids. Another important thing to look out for is dehydration, especially if they have been vomiting. Severe dehydration can cause dry mouth, decreased urination, dizziness, fatigue, or an increased heart or breathing rate. If any of these things are present, it may be a good idea to transport the patient, but you can play it by ear if the symptoms are not too severe. Another quick thing to do in your assessment is a palpation of the abdomen. You should palpate the four quadrants of the abdomen, and it should be soft when pressing down firmly.
There are a few things you can recommend to your patient when they decide that the hospital is not the route they want to take. At Vassar, you can always tell them that they can go to Baldwin if their symptoms persist or if they get too uncomfortable. They also have the option of driving to the hospital, taking a taxi for medical transport, or calling EMS again. The important thing to remember with vomiting and diarrhea is that they have to stay hydrated. Gatorade is a great way to stay hydrated and replace electrolytes. Juice, ginger ale, broth, and tea are also good options; small but frequent sips are best when drinking these. They shouldn’t eat until the vomiting and nausea subsides, and when that happens they should try to eat more bland foods such as saltines, bananas, rice, or bread. Make sure they get plenty of rest, and symptoms should clear up on their own. If their symptoms last more than a few days, tell them to visit a doctor, either at Baldwin or elsewhere.