Causes, Signs, and Treatment for the Stomach Flu

While you might frequently hear the term stomach flu to describe an illness that causes vomiting, diarrhea, aches, and fatigue, this condition is actually not related to the flu. Instead, it’s usually caused by a virus called gastroenteritis. No matter what you call it, however, the stomach flu causes uncomfortable symptoms that usually last 24 to 48 hours. Fortunately, though you may feel quite sick, the stomach flu is usually minor and doesn’t carry any serious health risks.

What Causes the Stomach Flu?

The most common viruses that cause these symptoms are called norovirus and rotavirus. These viruses are contracted when you eat or drink contaminated food or water, share utensils with a person who is infected, or come into contact with infected germs when someone has used the bathroom and not washed their hands.

Symptoms You May Experience

The telltale signs of stomach flu are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as abdominal pain and cramping, muscle aches, headache, and fever. In most cases, symptoms are limited to the gastrointestinal tract.

Treatments for Stomach Flu

When you’re suffering from stomach flu, self-care can help resolve some of your symptoms. Avoid eating solid food, instead consuming only clear liquids like water, clear soda, or broth. When you begin to feel better, start solid food slowly, sticking to easily digestible items like crackers, toast, bananas, and chicken and avoiding coffee, alcohol, smoking, spicy foods, and dairy. It’s also important to get plenty of rest. While over the counter medications may help with some symptoms, be careful; these can aggravate your stomach, especially if used incorrectly.

Preventing Gastroenteritis

Good hygiene can help ward off many cases of stomach flu. Wash your hands frequently with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Disinfect all surfaces, particularly if someone in your household has been ill. Avoid sharing personal items like toothbrushes, glasses, utensils, and towels.

In most cases, gastroenteritis resolves on its own after a day or two. You should see a doctor, however, if you haven’t been able to keep liquids down for 24 hours, if you have been vomiting for more than 48 hours, if there is blood in your vomit or stool, if you have a temperature higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, or you are showing signs of dehydration.