Stomach plays a critical role in maintaining our ability to digest foods we consume. The stomach may get afflicted by food poisoning or flu. A good understanding of the differences between these two disorders can help treat these medical conditions.

Food poisoning is triggered if you have eaten contaminated food. Some foods may develop bacterial growth and ingestion of these foods can cause this condition. It is observed when food is not fully washed or is spoiled the odds of food poisoning are high. Clinical studies show that nearly 50 million people experience food poisoning each year.

Stomach flu is caused by a virus passed on by people who are infected by it. Unlike food poisoning, this condition is not triggered by a bacterial attack. It can impact your digestive system – especially the intestines. Adverse effects of this condition can be observed for a few days. Stomach flu is an inflammation of your intestines and stomach triggered by a virus. The clinical name for stomach flu is viral gastroenteritis. The most common viruses known to trigger this condition are rotavirus, adenovirus, norovirus, etc. On an average, about 20 million instances of stomach bug (another name of stomach flu) are observed in the United States every year. Its onset is more common in the months between November and March. In a few cases, it has also been noticed in October as well as in April.


The signs and symptoms of these two medical conditions have a lot in common. The common symptoms are fever, flatulence, pain in your stomach, dizziness, diarrhea, etc.
Stomach flu may also be characterized by dryness of mouth, stiffness of your joints, loss of body weight, cramping of your intestinal muscles, stomach ache, vertigo as well as acute signs of dehydration.

In case of food poisoning, you may experience swelling of your eyes, respiratory problems, headache, gas formation or flatulence, weakness, muscular pain and rashes on your skin. In a few unusual instances, you may suffer from a sense of shock, unconsciousness, acute cramping of your muscles – especially in the abdominal areas, slurred speech and loss of physical balance.

In essence, diarrhea is a distinctive sign of food poisoning while vomiting coupled with dizziness is very common among people suffering frm stomach flu.


A unique form of food poisoning called as botulism is found to be extremely dangerous and can be fatal at times. In this condition, traces of a specific type of bacteria can secrete toxins that can affect the heath of your nerves and your overall nervous system. This condition is characterized by drooping of your eyelids, blurring of eyesight, slurry speech as well as a few neuro problems. This condition is however very uncommon in the United States.

Time taken for the onset

The time taken for symptoms to show up is one big difference. The symptoms associated with food poisoning may occur immediately after eating spoiled food. On the other hand, symptoms of stomach flu may take a longer time, i.e., upto 2 days.

The duration for which these conditions may last also offers a key difference. Stomach flu may be slow in its onset but lasts between 3 days to a week. In some acute cases of stomach flu, the condition has been found to last more than10 days to 2 weeks. However, the effects of food poisoning may only last upto 1 or 2 days. In some stray cases, the condition has been found to last for more than 4 days.


Remedies provided to these conditions start with diagnosing the extent of illness. Your doctor may take a sample of your blood or stool for performing a proper diagnosis. Your doctor may also try to comprehend recent changes to your lifestyle. You may need to respond to questions such as travel undertaken recently, food consumed in the last few days and also information of any recent onset of any illnesses in your office or education. Your detailed responses to these queries will assist in diagnosing the condition with greater levels of accuracy.

There are a lot of similarities between the treatment offered to stomach flu and food poisoning. However, the treatments are not entirely the same. As vomiting and indigestion coupled with diarrhea are very common symptoms, you need to consume a lot of fluids as well as take a good amount of rest. Restoration of fluids is very essential as your body may have lost a lot of essential electrolytes. In this light, merely drinking water may not be sufficient. Needful inputs that are rich in nutrients such as potassium and chloride are also provided to your body.


Diet and medicines

The diet prescribed is often bland, without greasy or oily foods. You may be advised to stay away from consuming fruits. Intake of milk is also not advised. This is because presence of natural sugar in milk (also called as lactose) can be difficult to be absorbed. Dairy products may exert added pressure on the digestive system and hence are to be avoided till your intestinal health is restored. However, for a condition of food poisoning intake of lactose and its absorption rarely present a problem.

Your physician may prescribe antibiotics for a serious bout of food poisoning. Intake of the dosage administered can kill bacteria that triggered this condition. To treat stomach flu, doctors prescribe pain killers and fever reducing drugs.

As the stomach flu is contagious, you are advised to wash your hands regularly. You are also advised not to share cosmetics, lip balm, food or utensils with others. With these measures, a possible onset of stomach flu can be prevented prior to its wider outbreak. The stomach flu is known to spread rapidly among people in the same living community, homes, cruise ships or work places. You are hence advised to stay at home and minimize spreading stomach flu to others.

On the contrary, preventing food poisoning is relatively difficult. Unwashed and uncooked foods are difficult to monitor. Also, upon consuming foods that may need to be served either cold or hot but served otherwise may lead to food poisoning. As a preventive measure, it is recommended to refrigerate all perishable food items and do not hesitate to throw away foods that are dated or already spoiled. Your dietician may suggest you to cleanly maintain your kitchen and food serving area. Food such as seafood and meats – including chicken – are to be cooked in full. Partial cooking of these foods may trigger added risks.

These two medical conditions can turn into dangerous risks if left untreated. Regular intake of antibiotics is a necessary aspect of the treatment of food poisoning. Consumption of adequate amount of fluids such as fruit juices or water is equally important for a faster cure.

If you spot blood in the diarrhea or experience a continuous spell of vomiting and nonstop diarrhea, persistence of fever, and also, if you are unable to retain fluids in your body, then it is time to meet your physician. Always remember to consult your doctor if the symptoms are new and also if the signs are turning more severe. This level of alertness is needed as it is possible for similar symptoms to arise owing to other problems in your digestive system.


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