How to Treat a Stomach Flu

Stomach Flu vs Food Poisoning

When you have a sudden case of upset stomach and diarrhea or vomiting, how can you tell whether you have the stomach flu or food poisoning? There are many similar symptoms but the main differences to look for is whether you improve after a day and if the people you shared the meal with also got sick. Since food poisoning comes from bacteria in food that was cross-contaminated during food preparation or storage, you should have an idea of whether you ate something in the last few hours that possibly wasn't stored or cooked properly.

Time is the other key difference between the a stomach virus and food poisoning. Stomach flus can take days to develop, so perhaps you were already experiencing a slight fever and nausea before any vomiting or diarrhea. Food poisoning, on the other hand, shows up usually within a few hours of consuming the meal that had contaminated food. Food poisoning typically comes on strong and passes after a day or two. Stomach flus can last between one to ten days. If your symptoms do not improve, or if your condition is worsening, see your doctor.

Stomach Flu Symptoms

Stomach flu symptoms generally consist of the following:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • stomach cramps or pain
  • watery diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • achy, sore muscles
  • fever

Stomach Flu Treatment

  • Get Hydrated. Your first priority when you have the stomach flu is to drink a lot of liquids. Your body could be low on fluids and nutrients from vomiting or diarrhea, so be sure to be sipping liquids consistently. Caffeine and alcohol could worsen your condition, so avoid these. The best things to drink when you have the stomach flu is water, clear broth, sports drinks, and herbal tea. Chamomile or peppermint tea is calming, or you can also steep sliced ginger root in hot water (you can add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and some honey) to make your own ginger tea. Ginger and cinnamon both have virus-fighting properties that are helpful for stomach flu. You may be feeling nauseous, so sip slowly if this is the case.
  • Follow the BRAT diet. You can feel that your stomach is going through the ringer, and you can help by eating food that won't aggravate your symptoms and help soothe and energize your body. BRAT stands for Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. Stick to these to provide your system with good nutrients, energy and easier digestion. Until you are fully recovered, you may want to avoid any dairy products, spicy or salty food and fiber products.
  • Medication. Although the stomach flu is a virus that simply has to run its course, you can help alleviate some symptoms with the over-the-counter (OTC) staples: ibuprofen and acetaminophen (Tylenol). Ibuprofen is helpful for treating the early symptoms such as headache, achiness and fever, but should be taken occasionally with food. If you are wanting to treat symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, acetaminophen is better since it will cause less side effects and be gentler on your stomach. To target diarrhea, use ioperamide hydrochloride (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). Note that people with liver disease should not use acetaminophen to treat stomach flu.
  • Stop and Rest. For some, this may be the hardest or most unnatural part of treating a stomach flu. If you are used to being on the go and taking care of work, the house, and your family, continuous rest may be a challenge. However, it is important to let your body heal by slowing down and getting a lot of sleep. Reschedule or cancel plans, errands and appointments and give yourself permission to stay on the couch or in bed during the day. Staying rested helps your body recover, fight the virus and regain proper function and strength.

We hope this has been helpful to let you know the best plan of action if you contract a stomach flu virus. Remember that the best way to prevent getting the stomach flu in the first place is to wash your hands frequently and keep surfaces properly sanitized, especially in the kitchen. As always, stay well hydrated and rested so that your immune system is strong.


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