What’s a “Stomach Bug” or “Stomach Flu”?

January 20, 2012
Picture of a woman with a stomach bug holding her stomach in pain.

Commonly referred to as “a stomach bug” or “the stomach flu,” gastroenteritis is an infection that occurs when the stomach and intestines become irritated and inflamed. (It’s important to distinguish the stomach flu from influenza, which affects the respiratory system.) Below, we discuss gastroenteritis causes and symptoms, explain how long the stomach flu typically lasts, and explore potential treatment options.

What Causes the Stomach Flu?

The stomach flu can be caused by a number of different viruses, bacteria, parasites, and toxins, including:

  • coli
  • Giardia
  • Norovirus
  • Rotavirus
  • Salmonella

Stomach bugs are commonly spread through contact with an infected person, but can also be contracted by consuming contaminated food or beverages. With that in mind, it’s important to wash your hands properly and frequently, clean produce before eating it, cook food thoroughly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and avoid sick individuals and potentially contaminated objects.

Common Stomach Flu Symptoms

The stomach flu can cause numerous unpleasant symptoms, including:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Cramping
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches

It’s important to note that the diarrhea associated with the stomach flu typically doesn’t contain blood. So, if you’ve noticed bloody stools, chances are good that you have a different type of illness, and you should promptly consult with a professional.

How Long Does the Stomach Flu Last?

The duration of stomach flu symptoms will depend on exactly what caused the illness. Many stomach bugs produce symptoms lasting only a day or two. But more severe cases can stick around for up to two weeks.

What Does Stomach Flu Treatment Involve?

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for the stomach flu, so treatment is instead aimed at managing symptoms and preventing complications. Many people are able to find relief by resting, eating a bland diet, and taking anti-diarrhea medication. You may also need to avoid eating solid foods for as long as it takes for your stomach to settle (you should also avoid consuming caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine).

Because the diarrhea and vomiting associated with the stomach flu can often lead to dehydration, it’s important that you try to replenish any lost fluids. To do this, you should sip water, clear juices, sports drinks, and clear broths. You may also want to suck on ice chips. Severe cases of the stomach bug may require intravenous (IV) rehydration.

When to Visit Urgent Care for a Stomach Bug

Many people are able to relieve their stomach flu symptoms using the at-home remedies listed above. But you should consult with a professional if your symptoms don’t improve or you experience:

  • Severe pain
  • A high fever
  • Signs of dehydration (such as increased thirst, reduced urine output, dark urine, and lightheadedness)

Fortunately, if you’re in certain areas of Connecticut, Massachusetts, or New York, you can turn to PhysicianOne Urgent Care for stomach bug treatment. Our immediate care centers are open 365 days per year during extended hours, and we accept walk-ins as well as pre-booked appointments (you can also check in online to save your spot in line and minimize your wait time). Or, if you’d prefer to receive care remotely, you can take advantage of our 24/7 telemedicine service.

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