How Long Does a Stomach Bug Last For?

September 1, 2022
A young dark-haired woman holds her stomach in pain while laying on her side at home

If you’ve ever experienced a “stomach bug,” there’s a good chance that what you actually had was an intestinal infection known as viral gastroenteritis. Also referred to as the stomach flu, a stomach bug usually lasts only a day or two. However, some cases may last up to two weeks, which is why it’s important to know as much as possible about this infection in case you or someone you know contracts it. With that said, PhysicianOne Urgent Care is here to help you learn more about how long stomach bugs last and where to seek treatment, if needed.

Causes of Viral Gastroenteritis

When it comes to how viral gastroenteritis is spread, most cases develop through contact with an infected person or through the consumption of contaminated food or water. Despite that it is sometimes called the stomach flu, influenza does not cause a stomach bug. Actual causes include:

  • Noroviruses – This type of virus is the primary cause of foodborne illnesses around the world, but it can also be spread from person to person or by touching contaminated surfaces. For adults who contract a stomach bug, a norovirus is the likely culprit.
  • Rotavirus – This is the predominant cause of viral gastroenteritis in children, although adults and food can still spread the illness. It is most common in infants and young children as they are more likely to put their fingers or other contaminated objects into their mouths.

Where to Go for Treatment

Viral gastroenteritis can go away on its own and typically lasts only a couple days at most, but certain individuals—such as young children, older adults, anyone living in a dorm or close shared quarters, and anyone with a weakened immune system—are at increased risk of contracting the illness and may also require more intensive treatment.

Symptoms of a stomach bug can include stomach cramps, watery diarrhea, nausea and/or vomiting, occasional muscle aches, headache, and even a low-grade fever. While these signs are common for gastroenteritis, they can also be incredibly uncomfortable, therefore warranting a trip to the doctor—but where should you go? 

Urgent Care

Moderate symptoms that are manageable may be addressed at an urgent care center. Urgent care can provide timely evaluation and treatment for stomach bugs, including hydration therapy and antiemetic medications to control nausea and vomiting.

Primary Care Physician

For ongoing care and support for managing symptoms and preventing future episodes, consider contacting your primary care physician. They can offer personalized guidance and treatment options tailored to your health needs.

Emergency Room

Certain symptoms may indicate a more serious condition requiring immediate medical attention. You should visit an emergency room as soon as possible if you experience:

  • Severe abdominal pain that doesn't improve with rest or over-the-counter medications
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea leading to dehydration, especially in children and older adults
  • High fever (above 101°F) lasting more than 24 hours
  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth, dizziness, or reduced urination
  • An inability to keep liquids down for 24 hours

When Medical Treatment May Not Be Necessary

In some cases, stomach bugs can resolve on their own with rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medications to alleviate symptoms. If you have mild symptoms and are otherwise healthy, you may not need to seek medical treatment. Focus on staying hydrated, getting plenty of rest, and avoiding solid foods until symptoms improve.

Where to Seek Treatment for a Stomach Bug

While there is no specific effective treatment for viral gastroenteritis, it’s important to have a local source of care available if you do come down with a stomach bug that just won’t budge. Prevention is also key, which is why avoiding known contaminants and washing your hands often is recommended.

Stomach bugs may not last for long, but the expert team at PhysicianOne Urgent Care can help if you do need to seek professional care for moderate symptoms. Our walk-in urgent care centers are open during extended hours every day of the year, and we even offer virtual visits to ensure you can receive the medical attention you need whenever you need it. Visit one of our locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, or New York to receive prompt urgent care for stomach bugs and begin feeling better in no time.

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