How Long Does the Stomach Flu Last?

Gastroenteritis - or the stomach flu as it is often called - can be caused by many different things. Most often it is caused by some type of virus (norovirus, adenovirus, rotavirus, etc) but similar symptoms can be caused by bacteria like E. coli or salmonella and other organisms such as parasites. Influenza (the flu) does not typically cause gastrointestinal symptoms.

The symptoms most often associated with the "stomach flu" are vomiting and diarrhea. You may also have a fever, nausea, stomach pain, headache, weakness, and chills. 

If you have ever had any of these symptoms, you know how miserable they are and you undoubtedly wanted to get better as soon as possible.

how long stomach flu symptoms last
Illustration by Cindy Chung, Verywell

How Long Does a Typical "Stomach Flu" Last?

Most people who get a stomach virus experience symptoms for 1-3 days but diarrhea may persist for as long as 10 days with some viruses. Typically, vomiting should stop within about 24 hours if you are caring for yourself and treating it properly.

If you have symptoms that persist longer than 10 days, vomiting that lasts longer than about 24 hours or you have blood in your diarrhea or vomit, contact your health care provider or seek medical attention right away.

You should watch for signs of dehydration that are common with stomach viruses as well. If you have frequent watery diarrhea or are vomiting persistently, you may need medical treatment to get rehydrated. 

What Can You Do?

Many people unintentionally prolong the symptoms of the stomach virus simply by trying to eat and drink too much too soon. When your intestinal lining is inflamed and irritated (which is what happens when you get a stomach virus), it won't tolerate and digest food like it would any other time. Although it may be tempting to drink a large amount to try to replace the fluids you have just vomited or you want to try to eat because you haven't been sick in a few hours, your GI system needs time to rest and recover.

Remember to take it slow. Drink small sips of water or electrolyte drinks once the vomiting stops. If you do feel like eating, keep it bland and simple. Crackers, toast, noodles, rice - basically foods that will be gentle on your stomach and that are easy to digest. Avoid greasy, sugary and spicy foods until you are completely back to normal.

A Word From Verywell

Unfortunately, stomach viruses are common and they are highly contagious. They are hard to avoid. Wash your hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom and before you eat or prepare food. If you happen to get sick, take care of yourself and seek medical attention if you get concerned about your symptoms or don't know what to do. Fortunately, they are typically short-lived and you should be back to yourself again within a few days. 

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Article Sources

  • "Viral Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)". Diseases and Conditions 2 Dec 14. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 20 Feb 15. 
  • "Viral Gastroenteritis". National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease 23 Apr 15. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 20 Feb 15. 
  • "Gastroenteritis". MedlinePlus 9 Aug 14. US National Library of Medicine. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 20 Feb 15.