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Queen's gastroenteritis: FAQs

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
norovirus molecule

4th March 2013 -The Queen has cancelled or postponed all her official engagements this week after being admitted to hospital with suspected gastroenteritis.

The 86 year old monarch was admitted to London's King Edward VII's hospital on Sunday - the first time she has stayed in hospital for 10 years. She left the hospital earlier today.

The Queen, who was described at the weekend by a spokesman for the Royal Family as in "good spirits" was being assessed for symptoms of gastroenteritis. The decision to admit her to hospital was said to be a "precautionary measure".

What is gastroenteritis, how do you get it and why might some people, such as the Queen, be admitted to hospital with it? Read our FAQs.

What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestines (the gastrointestinal tract).

The infection interferes with one of the main functions of the intestines - the absorption of water from the contents of the intestines into the body. As a result, gastroenteritis commonly leads to watery diarrhoea and the risk of dehydration.

How common is gastroenteritis?

About one in five people in England are affected by gastroenteritis each year.

Each year in England and Wales, an average 190 deaths occur because of gastroenteritis. Most deaths are in people over the age of 65.

What causes gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis may be caused by a virus, bacteria, parasites in spoiled food or unclean water.

In England, the two most common causes of gastroenteritis in adults are the norovirus and food poisoning.

A lack of good hygiene can result in gastroenteritis: for instance, poor hand washing after going to the toilet.

What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?

Symptoms of gastroenteritis include:

It can also cause high temperature, headache and swollen lymph glands, depending on the type of bug that causes it.

When might a patient need medical help?

Most cases of gastroenteritis do not need medical treatment and patients will see their symptoms ease after a few days.

However in severe cases, loss of bodily fluid can result in dehydration - a life-threatening condition that needs medical attention.

Signs of dehydration include sunken eyes, light-headedness, increased thirst, dry or sticky mucus membranes in the mouth, lack of normal elasticity of the skin, decreased urine output and decreased tears.

Elderly people, like the Queen, are at higher risk of complications from gastroenteritis than others in the population. The NHS recommends seeking medical advice if:

  • You are over 65
  • You are pregnant
  • You have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
  • You have a weakened immune system
  • Your symptoms do not improve after three days
  • You think you may have been infected while visiting a country with a poor standard of water hygiene

The risk of dehydration is the main concern for patients with gastroenteritis. For that reason, the NHS, recommends a stay in hospital because:

  • Repeated episodes of vomiting mean that you are unable to keep down any fluids
  • Symptoms suggest severe dehydration, such as not passing any urine

Patients who are admitted to hospital will usually receive fluids and nutrients intravenously - directly into a vein via a drip.

Reviewed on March 04, 2013

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