Stomach Flu vs Food Poisoning

Cold & Flu

Aug 20, 2020


Feeling sick is never fun — especially if it involves vomiting or diarrhea. At minimal, feeling this way can be exhausting and inconvenient. But, in severe cases, you could develop dehydration and become hospitalized. While there are many conditions that cause these symptoms, the most common are stomach flu and food poisoning. How can you tell the difference between these two illnesses, and when it is time to seek emergency care?

Causes of the Stomach Flu

Viral gastroenteritis — more commonly known as the stomach flu — is an intestinal virus caused by contamination from another individual or ingesting contaminated food and water. While most healthy individuals can overcome the flu in a few days, infants, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of complications — including death. Aside from potentially having vomiting and diarrhea, common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Nausea
  • Occasional muscle aches or headache
  • Low-grade fever

Causes of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning — as its name indicates — occurs from food that has been contaminated by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Contamination can occur at any point in processing or production. This includes improperly storing food at home. Food poisoning can occur in as little as a few hours after ingesting the contaminated food and can last a few days to a week. Like the stomach flu, the most common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Fever

Treatment Options

Whether you have the stomach flu or food poisoning, treatment for most may include drinking plenty of fluids and riding it out. But, depending on the severity of your illness, you may need additional treatment options. For the stomach flu, treatment may include:

  • Letting your stomach settle
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Easing into food — opting for crackers, toast, gelatine, and other easy to eat foods
  • Using medications — such as Advil or Tylenol — sparingly

While most medications don’t work for stomach flu, antibiotics can be used to treat some food poisoning. If your condition is caused by bacterial food poisoning and your symptoms are severe, you may be a good candidate for antibiotics. Otherwise, you’ll just need to continue to replenish any fluids you lose and wait for it to pass.

When to Visit the ER

While most healthy individuals can get over the stomach flu or food poisoning in a few days, there are some instances where your symptoms may be severe, and a trip to the emergency room may be necessary. For the stomach flu, warning signs include:

  • You’re not able to keep liquids down for 24 hours
  • You’ve been vomiting for more than two days
  • You’re vomiting blood
  • You’re dehydrated — including excessive thirst, dry mouth, deep yellow urine or little or no urine, and severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness
  • You notice blood in your bowel movements
  • You have a fever above 104 degrees F (102 for children or infants)

Similarly, if you have food poisoning, you’ll want to go to the ER if you’re experiencing dehydration. Other common warning signs include:

  • Frequent episodes of vomiting and inability to keep liquids down
  • Bloody vomit or stools
  • Diarrhea for more than three days
  • Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
  • An oral temperature higher than 100.4 degrees F
  • Neurological symptoms — such as blurry vision, muscle weakness, and tingling in the arms

Related:Signs You Have Food Poisoning

24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas

If you or a loved one believe you may have the stomach flu or food poisoning, let us help you. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.