How to Safely Recover From a Stomach Infection

The "stomach flu" and its accompanying symptoms—such as vomiting, fever, and diarrhea—can make you miserable. Fortunately, it is almost always self-limiting and most people recover fully without any treatment.

However, if you get sick from a stomach infection, you need to take important steps to increase your odds of getting better quickly and completely.

If you don't, the acute gastrointestinal infection raises your risk of developing ongoing digestive symptoms, a condition called post-infectious IBS (IBS-PI).

Woman sick in bed with a thermometer

Terry Doyle / Taxi / Getty Images

Get Rest

Seems easy enough, but face it, many of us decide we are too busy to take proper care of ourselves.

You may need to re-think this.

One well-designed study found a clear link between activity level and eventual onset of IBS. People who developed IBS after an acute GI illness were:

  • Less likely to rest when the first symptoms struck
  • More likely to remain active throughout the course of the illness

Don’t Suppress Vomiting

Vomiting is part of the body’s own defenses against foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria.

In studies of one specific kind of bacteria, vomiting during the acute stage of illness cut participants' risk of developing IBS-PI in half. So, if you have the urge to vomit, don't try to prevent it.

However, vomiting also leads to losing fluids.

Stay Hydrated

When you have a stomach infection, staying hydrated can help you feel better and recover faster. You can lose a lot of vital fluids through vomiting and diarrhea and they need to be replaced.

Choose:

  • Clear liquids
  • Drinks with electrolytes

If it's difficult to keep fluids down, take very small but frequent sips or suck on ice chips. 

Some common drinks can worsen diarrhea and need to be avoided, including:

  • Sugary drinks
  • Caffeine

Keep Stress Levels Low

Research consistently finds a relationship between high levels of anxiety and stress around the time of the initial illness and the risk of ongoing symptoms.

Experts suspect this relationship might extend for up to three months before the onset of acute illness.

Although you may have little control over the stressful events that pop up in your life, using active relaxation and stress management strategies can help to reduce the effect that the outside stress has on your insides.

Think Happy Thoughts

As far-fetched as it may seem, what you think can affect how you feel.

People who are pessimistic about their illness and their symptoms appear to be at higher risk for ongoing problems.

If you get ill, think positive thoughts about your illness and recovery. Talk to yourself like a loving parent, reassuring yourself that you will be “all better soon.”

What to Eat During Recovery

As your stomach begins to settle, gradually try bland foods that are easy to digest.

Some good choices are:

  • Soda crackers
  • Rice
  • Gelatin
  • Unbuttered toast
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas

Avoid:

  • Dairy products
  • Fatty foods
  • Sugary foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine

If you feel nausea returning, stop eating. Take it slow and easy.

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Article Sources
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  2. Spence MJ, Moss-Morris R. The cognitive behavioural model of irritable bowel syndrome: A prospective investigation of patients with gastroenteritisGut. 2007;56(8):1066-1071. doi:10.1136/gut.2006.108811