How to Know the Difference Between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning

Stomach Flu vs. Food Poisoning Treatment

How to Know the Difference Between Stomach Flu and Food Poisoning

When you have symptoms that could be food poisoning or stomach flu, it can be hard to figure out which one you have. They both cause symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. But these two conditions have completely different causes. You get food poisoning from eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Stomach flu (medically known as viral gastroenteritis) is usually caused by contact with certain viruses. This article explains the symptoms, causes, diagnostic tests, and treatments for food poisoning vs. stomach flu.

This article explains the symptoms, causes, diagnostic tests, and treatments for food poisoning vs. stomach flu.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Flu

The symptoms that occur with food poisoning and the stomach flu overlap quite a bit, so it’s important to understand the signs specific to each condition.

The biggest difference between the two illnesses is in the timing:

  • If you develop symptoms within a few hours of eating, it’s likely to be food poisoning.
  • Stomach flu symptoms typically appear within a day or two after exposure to the virus.

Symptoms of Stomach Flu:

Symptoms of Food Poisoning:

  • Fever
  • Chills & sweating
  • Stomach cramps & pain – sometimes severe
  • Diarrhea – loose, watery stools
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting – sometimes severe
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Causes of Stomach Flu

The cause of stomach flu is most often from a virus that is contracted. Occasionally, the flu can be caused by some bacteria or a parasite, but most often a virus. It is easily spread through bodily fluids, stools and unclean hands and others can contract the flu by coming into contact with a sick person.

Causes of Food Poisoning

The causes of food poisoning are most often from contaminated food. If you became sick shortly after eating something, or if you know others got sick from the same food, then you can be reasonably confident that it is food poisoning. Cross-contamination of food can happen with improper food prep techniques, or food can become contaminated during the growing, shipping or production stages. Additionally, parasites, bacteria and toxins can cause food poisoning.

What Should I Do Now?

If you have a gastrointestinal illness and are sick, you can come into ER of Texas emergency room right away for treatment. If it is the flu, sometimes we can treat it with a medication that will reduce the amount of time that you are sick. If it is food poisoning, we may need to run tests, such as a stool sample, to pin down the cause so we can treat it.

Treatments for Gastrointestinal Upset

Most influenza and food poisoning will go away on its own, although getting prompt medical attention may help reduce downtime. Rehydration through an IV may be necessary if you have become severely dehydrated and can’t keep anything down. In severe cases, anti-vomiting or anti-diarrheal medications may be given.

Symptoms that Require Medical Intervention

If your stomach bug or food poisoning starts to show symptoms such as bloody diarrhea, bloody vomit, mucus diarrhea, severe cramping, diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days, severe pain, high fever, blurred vision, confusion, abdominal pain on the right side, muscle weakness or tingling arms, visit to the closest emergency room right away.

The most common problem with a gastrointestinal condition is dehydration. When you can’t keep yourself hydrated because of the diarrhea and vomiting, you may need medical attention. Try to replace your fluids and electrolytes with a sports drink or mix that doesn’t have chemical additives. But if you show signs of dehydration, such as dark urine, excessive thirst and dizziness, and you are unable to hydrate yourself, seek medical help.

At all our emergency rooms, we have the IVs and the diagnostic equipment needed for this kind of situation, and we can monitor your condition to make sure you are on the road to recovery. We will also check to make sure it is the flu or food poisoning because there are other conditions, such as appendicitis and gallbladder problems, that can mimic these symptoms in their early stage.

Diagnosis of Food Poisoning vs Stomach Flu

A medical diagnosis of food poisoning vs. stomach flu isn't always necessary, but there are some exceptions.

You should see a healthcare provider right away for diagnosis and treatment if you're:

  • An older adult
  • Pregnant
  • Immunocompromised
  • Having severe or long-lasting symptoms

Most healthy adults don't need an official diagnosis. But a diagnosis can help steer you toward the right treatments and let you know if you're contagious.

Hand washing is the number one strategy against the flu. Become habitual about carefully washing with hot water and soap and keep hands away from mouth, eyes or nose. Learn to cough or sneeze in your arm or in a tissue. Get the flu shot each year. When you’re sick, stay home at least 24 hours after your fever breaks to keep from passing on germs.

Be prepared for any stomach emergency. Discover the closest ER of Texas emergency room locations to your home, school or work.