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Food Poisoning vs Stomach Flu: Which One Is It?

May 12, 2022

Food Poisoning vs Stomach Flu: Which One Is It?


One of the worst feelings is waking up in the middle of the night, feeling sick to your stomach. After three trips to the bathroom and a nap on the cold tile floor, you’re probably wondering what is going on inside and why you feel so nauseous.

Is it a virus? Was it something you ate? When you are in the depths of sickness, it can sometimes be pretty challenging to decide if you’re sick because of a stomach virus or food poisoning.

However, once you learn the subtle differences between the two, you will be able to figure out where the sickness stems from. It can be extremely beneficial to spot what makes you sick because you can give your body what it needs and stay on top of potential risks.

Food-borne illnesses can become very serious if it goes unnoticed or untreated. So understanding the differences between food poisoning and stomach flu may save your life.

Here, we look at why they are similar, what to look for, and how to treat them both—no more time wondering what is leaving you with your head hanging in the toilet.

What Is a Stomach Flu?

Although the name might be confusing, the stomach flu doesn’t actually relate to the regular, seasonal flu. The stomach flu is viral gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation, swelling, or irritation of the inside lining of your gastrointestinal tract.

Viral gastroenteritis is caused by a virus and can infect your stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. However, it is very common, and, in most cases of food poisoning, is not very harmful.

What Is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is an infection or irritation of your digestive tract, which comes from food or drink that contains illness-inducing pathogens.

When your body has food poisoning, your body is attempting to rebel against the virus, bacteria, or other harmful substance from something you ate or drank.

Food poisoning is also common, and most of the time, it is not so serious. However, foodborne illnesses can rarely lead to severe complications.

What Are The Common Causes?

It’s important to know what causes each of these illnesses because it can better prepare you to try and avoid getting sick. Although getting sick is sometimes unavoidable, there are certain steps you can take to help prevent the biggest triggers.

Stomach Flu

Many different viruses can cause the stomach flu, also referred to as a stomach bug. A virus named norovirus is most often the virus that infects adults, and rotavirus is usually to blame for stomach flu in children. These viruses mostly infect the lining of the small intestine.

However, other viruses, such as astroviruses, can also lead to stomach flu.

The most common way to contract the virus is from direct contact with someone who is sick, and most people contract the virus in the winter months when people are more likely to be in close contact with each other indoors.

You can contract the virus from contact with an object that an infected person touched and contains someone's stool, saliva, or vomit substance with the virus in it.

Food Poisoning

You can develop food poisoning when infectious organisms such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites contaminate your foods. Food contamination can happen at any point of production – from growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparing.

The transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another, known as cross-contamination, is often the cause of infectious organisms living in food.

Eating contaminated or undercooked meat often leads to food poisoning, but the following foods have also been known to lead to sickness:

  • Raw and Undercooked Eggs
  • Soft or Unpasteurized Cheeses and Other Dairy Products
  • Unwashed Vegetables and Fruits
  • Raw Fish or Oysters
  • Raw Meat like Beef
  • Contaminated Water
  • Unpasteurized Milk
  • Undercooked Rice
  • Unrefrigerated Food

Paying attention to the list above may help you avoid any future food-borne illnesses.

What Are The Common Symptoms?

Although the symptoms for the two illnesses often look similar, there are a few differences to look out for the next time you are feeling sick.

Stomach Flu

Many symptoms can be a side effect of having the stomach flu, but the most common ones include:

  • Diarrhea
  • A Loss of Appetite
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Low-Grade Fever
  • Head and neck tension
  • Light-Headedness or Dizziness
  • Fatigue

These symptoms often last about three to four days but can last for up to 14 days.

A stomach virus does not usually cause bloody stools and may signal a more serious infection. Stools that contain blood could signal a more serious infection.

Food Poisoning

Symptoms of food poisoning can occur within hours of eating. People may experience:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach Pain and Cramping
  • A Fever, Chills, and Body Aches
  • Dizziness and Lightheadedness From Dehydration

Sickness from food poisoning can last from a few hours to several days. Timing is once again important when trying to decipher why you are sick. If you develop symptoms within a few hours of eating, it’s likely to be food poisoning.

Also, If you shared a meal with someone who is also experiencing these symptoms, odds are that you have food poisoning.

How To Treat It

Once you have distinguished why you are sick, you will want to give your body what it needs to heal.

Stomach Flu

If you have the stomach flu, you will want to focus on hydration, anti-inflammation, and giving your body the right vitamins.

First, it will be important to drink plenty of water, rest as much as possible, and slowly introduce easy-to-digest foods, such as bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. However, the most efficient and best way to give your body what it needs is to receive an I.V. therapy treatment.

An I.V. Therapy treatment targeted toward the stomach flu will fight redness, swelling, and nausea and will supply your body with vitamin C as well as other vitamins and electrolytes that help you get over your sickness.

Food Poisoning

Because food poisoning and the stomach flu have similar symptoms, there are similar treatments. If you have food poisoning, you will want to focus on hydration and rest and avoid the food that caused you to be sick.

At The I.V. doc, we offer Food Poisoning Relief Treatment. This treatment will fight nausea, heartburn, and inflammation. This will rehydrate your body, ease symptoms such as headaches, diarrhea, and vomiting.

How To Prevent

If you have experienced the stomach flu or food poisoning, chances are you will not want to go through it again. Although it can be hard to avoid getting sick, there are certain measures you can take to stay healthy.

Stomach Flu

The stomach flu is extremely contagious and easily transmitted. A person can be contagious before symptoms start to appear and for days after symptoms have stopped. However, some ways to potentially prevent infection include:

  • Washing your hands often, especially during the winter months
  • Keeping your hands away from your mouth
  • Cleaning and disinfecting common surfaces
  • Washing laundry thoroughly
  • Staying home and away from other people when ill
  • Keeping your distance from someone who recently had the stomach flu

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning generally isn’t contagious, although it is sometimes, albeit rarely, spread through an exchange of bodily fluid with someone who has already been affected.

To prevent food poisoning, you will want to focus on how you prepare your food and what you are eating.

Steps to take include:

  • Washing your hands and work surfaces before, during, and after food preparation
  • Separating raw meat and eggs from other foods
  • Cooking food to the correct internal temperature
  • Refrigerating leftovers within two hours of cooking

When To Seek Medical Attention

Symptoms should improve after a few days for either condition. However, you may need to seek help from a doctor or other health care professional if your symptoms are very severe or don't go away on their own. This is especially important to keep in mind when you have food poisoning.

Signs that indicate you should seek medical attention include:

  • High grade fever
  • Bloody stools
  • Confusion or dizziness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Signs of severe dehydration, including minimal urine output

Young children, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and people with weak immune systems are more vulnerable to severe infection. People in these groups should be less hesitant to seek medical attention.


Food poisoning and the stomach flu result in similar symptoms, like nausea and vomiting, but understanding the timeline of your sickness might help you distinguish the two.

Both can typically be treated at home with hydration, rest, and an I.V. therapy treatment.

Although both food poisoning and the stomach flu are very common, it's essential to try and protect yourself and your friends and family from getting sick. You can do this by practicing good hygiene habits and ensuring foods are prepared and served safely.

If you experience either the stomach flu or food poisoning, keep a close eye out for severe symptoms and contact a healthcare provider if you are experiencing unusual or lingering symptoms.

Schedule your I.V. treatment with us today!


Understanding Viral Gastroenteritis | Johns Hopkins Medicine

Stomach flu: How long am I contagious? | Mayo Clinic.

Stomach Flu (Gastroenteritis): Symptoms, Causes & Diagnosis


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