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How do I know if I have a stomach flu or food poisoning?

By October 23, 2008 - 11:52am
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Ever since I went out-of-town for the weekend, I've had awful stomach pain, intestinal cramping and diarrhea. I'm able to sleep now (was awake in the bathroom most of the previous nights), and do not have as much pain/cramping. However, I'm still not able to eat much more than some saltine crackers, bread or a banana for the entire day. I'm feeling weak and sleepy, but otherwise, no other symptoms.

When should I go to the doctor? I don't want to, since I'm feeling better and my symptoms are improving. However, I'd like to know what I have and how much longer this will last. Should I be doing anything else? When will I be able to eat actual meals again?

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EmpowHER Guest

I have school tomorrow and I'm feeling nauseated and my stomach hurts. I haven't gone to the restroom yet. If I have the stomach bug then wounldnt I already be throwing up? What do I do?

August 22, 2017 - 7:55pm

We posted the signs and symptoms of diarrhea above, along with a link to some information about food poisoning. Have you consulted your doctor?

March 23, 2009 - 5:50pm
EmpowHER Guest

I went to eat out a couple of days ago and have been sick ever since. My two children has diarrhea for 3days but are now ok.Unfortunately I have been sick for 3 days with no improvement.I have stomach aches,nausea,body aches
and feel very sleepy one thing I dont have is diarrhea.Is it food poisoning?

March 23, 2009 - 4:37pm

Free2beme, in my own personal experience, the time or two that I have had food poisoning, nausea and vomiting have accompanied it. It is as if your body cannot get the toxic substance out quickly enough (and diarhhea certainly helps it do that.)

You didn't mention vomiting, so I'm wondering if that was part of it.

I have also noticed a serious aversion -- lasting for years -- to whatever made me sick, even if it was a favorite food before. The two times I've gotten food poisoning it was from pasta salad and fried chicken, and I've never felt the same way about either food since.

This is not to say that you didn't have food poisoning; it's also possible you had a milder case then I did in the above two instances. But I just wanted to make the point that in my experience, once I ate something that wasn't right, it seemed like 3 or 4 hours later my entire body's system was doing everything it could to rid itself of that food, and that then mentally and physically afterward I'd lost all taste for that food. So if any of those symptoms sound familiar, that might be part of what helps you figure out what made you sick.

In any case, so glad you're on the mend!

October 24, 2008 - 8:09am

I'm so sorry you got ill after your trip, and glad to hear that you're feeling better. As Alison suggested, a bland, non-fatty and non-fiber diet for a few days will help your system normalize. Electrolyte fortified fluids, such as Pedialyte, are also often prescribed to replace essential minerals lost with diarrhea.

It is often difficult to tell whether you're suffering from food poisoning or diarrhea - possibly induced by factors other than food. Here are the common symptoms of food poisoning:

Most types of food poisoning cause some combination of abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, muscle pain, weakness, and fatigue. With the exception of C. botulinum, the bacteria cause inflammation and swelling in the intestines. Dehydration is often a complication because of the loss of fluids. How severe the symptoms will be depends upon the type of bacteria, how much of the bacteria has been ingested, and the age and general health of the patient. Symptoms of Salmonella food poisoning begin within 12 to 72 hours after eating the contaminated food, and last for two to five days. Symptoms of food poisoning caused by Staphylococcus aureus start more suddenly, usually within two to eight hours, and are more severe. However, symptoms usually last for less than 12 hours. E. coli causes severe cramps and watery diarrhea within one to three days of ingesting the bacteria. It rarely causes vomiting or fever. The diarrhea becomes bloody within 24 hours of its onset, and lasts for anywhere from one to eight days.

Source: Hershey Medical Center, Penn State

Signs and symptoms of diarrhea:

Diarrhea that persists for more than a couple of days is considered chronic and may be a sign of an underlying condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease or an infection. In these cases, diarrhea may lead to dehydration and requires the care of your doctor. Dehydration occurs when the body has lost too much fluid and electrolytes -- the salts potassium and sodium. The fluid and electrolytes lost during diarrhea need to be replaced promptly because the body cannot function properly without them.

Signs and symptoms associated with diarrhea may include:

* Frequent loose, watery stools
* Abdominal cramps
* Abdominal pain
* Fever
* Bleeding
* Lightheadedness or dizziness from dehydration

Source: Diarrhea - Signs and Symptoms, UCSF Medical Center

Also see:
Food Poisoning, Dr. Greene

Multiple diarrhea symptom combination checker

October 23, 2008 - 6:43pm

Sounds like you have acute diarrhea, which can last for several days. (This is compared to chronic diarrhea, which can last up to four weeks!).

According to the Mayo Clinic, you should see your doctor if you have diarrhea lasting more than three days. Without seeing your doctor, it is impossible to know what the culprit is: could be a virus (stomach "flu") or parasite or bacterial infection (perhaps from your road trip).

Since it sounds like you are feeling better and your symptoms are improving: hang in there! Here are some home remedy suggestions:
- Drink plenty of clear liquids, including water, broths and juices every day. But, avoid apple and pear juices until you feel better because they can make your diarrhea worse. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Eating gelatin may also help.
- Add semisolid and low-fiber foods gradually as your bowel movements return to normal. Try soda crackers, toast, eggs, rice or chicken.
- Avoid certain foods such as dairy products, fatty foods, high-fiber foods or highly seasoned foods for a few days.

Also, not sure if this still holds true or not, but the BRAT diet is supposed to help ease symptoms, and stands for: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast (low-fiber).

October 23, 2008 - 1:04pm
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