Stomach Bug or Food Poisoning?


Stomach bug or food poisoningNausea and vomiting are distressing symptoms that can seriously disrupt a person’s life. In most instances, these symptoms subside on their own. In certain situations, however, medication may be needed to eliminate bacterial infections. To help you determine when to seek medical attention for your stomach issues, learn how to tell the difference between food poisoning and the so-called stomach flu.

Understanding the Difference

Often called the stomach flu, gastroenteritis is a viral infection that is often confused with bacterial food poisoning. In both instances, a person usually contracts an infection by eating tainted food. With gastroenteritis, however, a virus causes inflammation of the intestines. On the other hand, food poisoning results when a person consumes food that contains an infectious organism, such as a parasite or bacterium.

When someone gets gastroenteritis, it is usually because a sick person has handled their food. While food poisoning can also occur during the food handling process, contamination may result when food is undercooked or left out too long.

Identifying Symptoms

It’s not always easy to differentiate between gastroenteritis and food poisoning, since both can cause nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps. That said, there are some telltale signs that signal a bacterial foodborne illness, including:

• Frequent vomiting
• Blood within vomit or stool
• Inability to stay hydrated
• Muscle weakness
• Blurred vision
• Tingling in the extremities
• Diarrhea that lasts longer than three days
• Extreme abdominal cramping or pain
• A fever above 101.5 F (38.6 C)

When to See a Doctor

Although it can make you miserable, gastroenteritis usually clears up on its own within one to three days. On the other hand, food poisoning may require intravenous or oral bacterial medications to kill the infecting organism. If you show any of the above symptoms, see your doctor. You should also seek medical attention if you show symptoms of severe dehydration, including little or no urination, lightheadedness, extreme thirst, severe weakness and/or dizziness.

Dr. Jeannie Kenkare

Written by Dr. Jeannie Kenkare

Dr. Kenkare is a highly experienced clinician with a background in family medicine. As a founding member of PhysicianOne Urgent Care's parent company Happy Mountains, she is also our Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Kenkare provides guidance and leadership to our health care team, and is responsible for the review of clinical guidelines, decision tools, and outcomes to develop and implement strategies that will improve patient care and clinical quality.