What To Do When You Get the Stomach Flu


Check Your Symptoms

Woman with an upset stomach. Image Source/Getty Images

Think you have the "stomach flu"? In reality, it's probably not the flu at all. The flu (or more accurately, influenza) is a respiratory virus that causes fever, body aches, and fatigue - but rarely stomach problems. Instead it's most likely a gastroenteritis - a nasty virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. If you are dealing with these symptoms, you'll want to go through and see what could be causing your symptoms and what you need to know about them.

You'll also want to know what the "stomach flu" actually is. It can be caused by a number of different viruses and sometimes even bacteria.


Know When to See a Doctor

Know when you need to see a doctor for abdominal pain. PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini/Getty Images

Most people with vomiting and diarrhea don't need to see a doctor. But it's important to know when you do.

Some essential things to watch for:

  • Vomiting longer than 24 hours
  • Blood in your vomit
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting with severe headache and stiff neck
  • Signs of dehydration - dark or infrequent urine, dry mouth

If you have any of the signs or symptoms above or you are concerned about your health, contact your health care provider or seek medical attention. Although most people recover from stomach bugs without medical treatment, sometimes these symptoms are caused by more serious problems that do require medical intervention.

Some people may become dehydrated from vomiting and having diarrhea. Some cases of dehydration need to be treated with medications or IV fluids - even if the cause is a simple stomach virus.


Treating Your Symptoms

A man vomiting. Tom Merton/OJO Images/Getty Images

Vomiting and diarrhea are two of the most unpleasant symptoms we experience when we get sick. No matter the cause, these two problems can bring even the strongest, healthiest person to their knees (literally and figuratively).

Unfortunately, many people make mistakes in how they attempt to treat vomiting and diarrhea. We all just want it to stop but if you do certain things - like trying to eat or drink too soon after vomiting - you could make it worse.

If you have diarrhea, we can help with that too. Diarrhea tends to last longer than vomiting but there are things you can do to minimize the problems it causes


Learn About the BRAT Diet

Homemade apple sauce
What Should You Eat When You Have the Stomach Flu?. Kirk Mastin/Aurora/Getty Images

Have you heard of the BRAT Diet? Does it actually help when you have a stomach bug?

BRAT is actually an acronym for Bananas, Rice, Applesauce (or Apples) and Toast. But the diet includes more than just these foods - it really encompasses all bland, starchy foods that are easy on stomach.

When your gastrointestinal system is out of balance due to a stomach virus, digesting greasy, spicy, rich or complex foods can be difficult and make you feel worse. Sticking to simple bland foods is the best way to allow your system to recover and heal as quickly as possible


Should You Take Probiotics for an Upset Stomach?

Should you take probiotics?. Maarten Wouters/Stone/Getty Images

Probiotics are highly touted and frequently recommended to help restore the body's GI system when you have the stomach flu or any other problem causing vomiting or diarrhea. But do they actually work?

Many people recommend them - including a lot of health care providers. However, in the US, probiotics are still sold and marketed as natural supplements. They cannot legally make any claims about curing or treating any conditions or diseases. Due to the increasing interest in probiotics, many studies are in progress about what benefits they may offer. Hopefully in the future we will better understand these products and how they might help us recover from various illnesses and ailments. 

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