Food Poisoning Vs Stomach Flu: What's The Difference?

When your stomach is upset, your focus may simply be on what to do to feel better. But in order for that to happen, it's helpful to pinpoint what's causing the symptoms in the first place. It's likely one of two things: the stomach flu or food poisoning, which can be hard to tell apart since the two conditions share many symptoms.

The stomach flu is caused by a virus that is transmitted from person to person or by touching a surface or item contaminated with the virus, according to Medical News Today. Even though it's called the flu, it's not the same as influenza, and the annual flu vaccine will not protect you against these viruses. Stomach viruses are highly contagious, and can lead to symptoms like abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, joint and muscle aches, headache, diarrhea, and overall fatigue (via Healthline).

In general, staying hydrated is key as the virus works through your system, a process which could take three to four days. Drink lots of fluids to replace water your body may be losing, according to Health. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which are dehydrating, and forgo sports drinks, which contain extra sugars that can exacerbate diarrhea. Instead, replace electrolytes with Ceralyte or Pedialyte, and eat bland foods like bananas or rice to let your digestive system rest.

Prepare and store food correctly to avoid food poisoning

Food poisoning is caused by organisms like bacteria or parasites which contaminate food. Undercooked meat is often a source of food poisoning; however it can also be caused by raw or undercooked eggs, raw fish, unpasteurized cheeses or beverages, fruits and vegetables that are not washed well, raw sprouts, and other foods when stored or prepared incorrectly (via Healthline).

Bacteria, viruses, and parasites all cause inflammation in the intestinal tract when consumed. This produces a variety of symptoms, including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, fever, chills, muscle aches, dizziness, and lightheadedness (via Medical News Today).

Food poisoning usually passes more quickly than a stomach flu, often within a few hours, but can linger for several days. It is important to drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and caffeine that dehydrates the body, and eat bland foods that are gentle on the stomach.

For both the stomach flu and food poisoning it's important to watch out for high fever, bloody diarrhea or vomiting that doesn't subside, or an inability to keep fluids down. In these instances, contact your doctor right away.