What is the stomach flu?
- The stomach flu (gastroenteritis) is an infection of the stomach and intestines. Though it is
referred to as the "flu" it is not the same as influenza. Influenza does not
always affect the gastrointestinal tract, and most influenza symptoms involve the
- Infection of the stomach and intestines is referred to as
- Stomach flu is usually caused by viruses, but it also
can be caused by
bacteria or parasites.
Are the stomach flu and food poisoning the same thing?
Food poisoning and the stomach flu are not the same thing. There are many
types of food poisoning that are not infectious. Food poisoning and the stomach
flu share many of the same symptoms, including
However, food poisoning comes on pretty
quickly after eating contaminated food, and usually it goes away within a few
hours to days. Gastroenteritis can last for up to 10 days.
Quick GuideDigestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions
Is the Stomach Flu Contagious?
There are a variety of causes of the stomach flu (gastroenteritis).
Unfortunately, the most common causes are contagious, for example:
- Bacteria, for example, E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella
- Viruses, for example, norovirus and adenovirus
- Parasites, for example, Giardia lambia and Cryptosporidium (also
known as "Crypto")
What are the signs and symptoms of the stomach flu?
Signs and symptoms of the stomach flu include:
What should you eat or drink if you have the stomach flu?
- Fluids: Diarrhea and vomiting can be dehydrating. Make sure you take in plenty of water,
sports drinks, or other
clear liquids. Take small sips. Infants should get plenty of breast milk, and
toddlers can drink electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte.
- Ice chips: If you are having trouble
keeping fluids down, try sucking on ice chips to help rehydrate. Don't give ice
chips to small children, as they can be a choking hazard.
- BRAT diet: BRAT stands for
Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. These foods are bland and binding, which can make
your stools more firm. Bananas also contain potassium which can help replace
nutrients lost from vomiting and diarrhea.
- Tea: Caffeine-free teas can help
replenish lost fluids, and some varieties, such as peppermint, may calm the
stomach, and ginger, may help ease nausea. Add lemon to get a little extra
vitamin C. (Avoid caffeine as this can act as a diuretic, making you urinate and
lose fluids you need to hydrate.)
- Apple cider vinegar: Some people report
this helps ease nausea and stomach upset.
- Cinnamon and turmeric: Both these
spices are reported to help relieve symptoms of gastroenteritis.
What natural or home remedies or over-the-counter (OTC) help soothe and cure the
When you have a stomach bug, there are several things you can do to help
- Rest: Most people need to rest for a
few days to let the illness work its course.
- Heating pad: A heating pad may help
relieve abdominal cramping.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol): Take for pain
or fever. This is recommended over aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs (NSAIDs), which can upset the stomach.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-diarrheal
Loperamide hydrochloride (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate
(Pepto-Bismol) can help relieve diarrhea.
Lactobacillus casei GG and
S boulardii may be helpful in some cases of viral gastroenteritis, and can help
with watery diarrhea. Yogurt often contains these probiotics. Choose low fat or
fat free yogurt, if you can tolerate dairy products.
These may reduce the
severity and duration of stomach flu.
- Acupressure: Finger pressure is used to
stimulate trigger points on the body that may help relieve nausea and vomiting,
specifically, pressure point P-6 (also called Neiguan) is a point on the inner
wrist that may be massaged.
Before trying any alternative or herbal home remedy, consult your doctor.
What foods should be avoided when you have the stomach flu?
As described previously, when you have the stomach flu, you want to eat bland
and binding foods such as the BRAT diet. Avoid foods that will contribute to
- Dairy products: Many people are
lactose intolerant, which can cause diarrhea. If you have gastroenteritis, you
may temporarily have a hard time digesting the lactose in milk, cheese, and
other dairy products.
- Fatty foods: Greasy, fatty foods can
be hard on the stomach even when you feel well. Fatty meats, creamy foods, and
even nuts can all contribute to feeling full which may aggravate an upset
stomach, and they can stimulate the digestive tract, causing loose stools.
- Spicy foods: Foods with heavy, hot
spices such as chili, hot pepper, and garlic, may aggravate your symptoms and
upset your stomach even more. In addition, many spicy foods are cooked in oil,
making them fatty as well.
- Caffeine: Caffeine acts as a diuretic,
which will cause you to urinate and lose fluids and you could become dehydrated.
When you are already dehydrated from vomiting and diarrhea, you want to stay
hydrated. Caffeine can also cause loose stools.
Usually, fruits, vegetables,
and beans are good for you. But when you have diarrhea, fiber can aggravate
already loose bowels, especially in people who are not used to eating fiber
regularly. Stick to the binding foods suggested in the BRAT diet.
- Alcohol: Alcohol can cause irritation
and inflammation of the stomach lining
(gastritis) and the digestive tract, and can
stimulate the production of gastric acid, which you want to avoid when you
already feel nauseated.
Consuming sugar in foods or
drinks can cause a spike in blood sugar levels. In some people, this can cause
nausea. Sugary foods are also often fatty, adding a double-whammy to aggravate
- Soda: Colas contain a lot of caffeine,
which acts as a diuretic. However, non-caffeinated sodas contain chemicals and
are acidic, which can also irritate the stomach. The carbonation may also cause
you to feel more full and to belch, which can aggravate nausea.
- Acidic foods: Citrus fruits (orange,
grapefruit, etc.), citrus juices, pineapple, and tomato products have a lot of
acid that can irritate the stomach and cause acid reflux and further upset the
- Processed foods: Many pre-packaged and processed foods are
high in fat, sugar, preservatives, and artificial colorings. All of these can
aggravate an already upset stomach or worsen diarrhea, especially in individuals
sensitive to these ingredients.
- Gluten: Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains
such as barley, rye, and oats. Some people are sensitive to this protein and it
can cause diarrhea, stomach pain, and bloating so these people may find avoiding
products with gluten will help ease symptoms.
- Artificial sweeteners: The sweetener that often causes
digestive problems, even in healthy people, is called sorbitol. It is often used
in diet foods and sugarless gum, and can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Medically Reviewed on 9/27/2016
Alexandraki, I.A., MD, MPH., et al. "Acute viral gastroenteritis in adults." UpToDate. Updated: Aug 01, 2016.
American Academy of Family Physicians. "BRAT Diet: Recovering From an Upset Stomach." Updated: Feb 2011.
Acheson, D.WK., MD, FRCP. "Differential diagnosis of microbial foodborne disease." UpToDate. Updated: Apr 12, 2016.
Gouvernement du Québec. "Foods to Eat When You Have Gastroenteritis."
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. "Acupressure for Nausea and Vomiting."
Tablang, M.V.F., MD. "Viral Gastroenteritis Treatment & Management." Medscape. Updated: Dec 14, 2014.