Stomach Flu Remedies: How to Eat With the Stomach Flu
The stomach flu is a common term used to describe inflammation and irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. Despite the “flu” association, the stomach flu isn’t actually a form of influenza, which refers to an infection in the respiratory system.
The stomach flu is also called “gastroenteritis” and is a viral infection, not a bacterial infection. This means that with proper care, gastroenteritis will usually end within 2-7 days and does not require the use of antibiotics. Learn more about common remedies for stomach flu and tips to help you prevent the spread of the virus.
What is the Stomach Flu?
The stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is a common virus that affects people all over the world. In the US, it is the second most common illness (second only to respiratory ailments) and is responsible for thousands of doctor visits every year. The stomach flu is highly contagious, and spreads mostly through contact with other infected individuals. Gastroenteritis is commonly transmitted in places such as dormitories and airplanes, where many people are sharing the same facilities.
Gastroenteritis can be caused by several different viruses. Most commonly, gastroenteritis develops from either Rotavirus or Norovirus. Gastroenteritis can also be contracted after consuming contaminated food or water.
While the stomach flu will usually go away within a few days, children and elderly people may experience further complications. People taking medication that may weaken their immune systems are more susceptible to viral gastroenteritis.
On a global scale, viral gastroenteritis is a leading cause of death in children under four years, and is more prevalent in developing countries with little access to clean water or facilities.
Common Symptoms of the Stomach Flu
While most people experience similar symptoms of stomach flu, other problems can indicate more serious conditions, and should be discussed with a doctor. This also makes it important to understand the typical duration of symptoms and recognize symptoms of stomach flu. Common symptoms include the following:
- Diarrhea – when infected, the large intestine is unable to absorb fluids, which causes the stool to be loose and watery. If diarrhea is bloody or persists for more than three days, call your doctor.
- Abdominal pain – discomfort in the abdominal area is usually a dull ache that may increase in intensity leading up to loose bowel movements. Belly bloating often accompanies abdominal pain. Infection of the intestines causes inflammation, which is the leading cause for abdominal pain during the course of stomach flu.
- Nausea – nausea is the sensation often associated with motion sickness, and sometimes followed by vomiting. Nausea as a symptom of the stomach flu is often caused by dehydration, loss of appetite, and abdominal discomfort.
- Vomiting – vomiting is a common symptom of the stomach flu, and is caused by the inflammation of the intestines. Feelings of nausea often lead to vomiting. Vomiting can be dangerous because it causes your body to lose fluids, and accelerates the process of dehydration. Many of the remedies for stomach flu work to both settle the stomach and replenish the fluids your body loses through vomiting. Contact your doctor if vomiting does not cease within 48 hours.
- Fever – a fever occurs when a body’s core temperature is above normal (98.6º Fahrenheit), and is an indication that your body is battling an infection. Fevers do not require medical attention unless temperature exceeds 102ºF. A high fever can indicate a serious infection or other problem and especially in children, can lead to life-threatening conditions. Seek medical attention if you or your child experiences a high fever, and especially if fever persists for more than 48 hours.
- Body weakness and aching – weakness and aching in your muscles and body are common symptoms of gastroenteritis. These symptoms are often worsened by dehydration and abdominal discomfort. Getting lots of rest and hydrating well often relieve these sensations.
Stomach Flu Treatment Options
Stomach flu and accompanying symptoms can usually be treated at home, and do not require professional medical attention. Antibiotics are not effective for gastroenteritis as a viral infection, and should not be used to treat the stomach flu. There are important ways to help your body fight the stomach flu and to prevent the spread of the virus.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
The most effective way to combat the uncomfortable symptoms of stomach flu is to stay hydrated. As you experience diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, your body loses valuable fluids that it needs to get rid of the stomach flu. Extreme dehydration can be very dangerous and lead to more serious problems. You should contact your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms of extreme dehydration:
- Dark yellow urine
- Decreased or no urination
- Dry/cotton mouth
To avoid reaching a dangerous state of dehydration, it is vital to stay hydrated as soon as you feel the onset of common stomach flu symptoms. Helpful ways to prevent dehydration are:
- Drinking electrolytes – beverages with electrolytes, such as Gatorade, Powerade, and Pedialyte, are designed to replenish nutrients like potassium and sodium, which your body loses through diarrhea. These drinks have low sugar contents and help rehydrate the cells without taxing the digestive system.
- Avoid caffeine and sugars – physicians recommend sticking to clear drinks and avoiding caffeine and sugars, as they tend to dehydrate the body. Apple juice can be combined with equal parts water to settle the stomach. Drinking juice by itself is not recommended because of it’s high sugar content.
- Ice chips and Infused Water – eating ice chips can be soothing to your stomach, and will increase your water intake. You can also infuse your water in these creative ways.
- Increasing frequency – while the stomach flu can make drinking water unappealing, even drinking a few ounces of water many times throughout the day can help your body absorb fluid. In the early stages of gastroenteritis, drinking several ounces of water (or any other fluid) at once may worsen nausea and vomiting.
- Chicken or vegetable broth – cooking vegetables in water or light chicken broth will provide nutrients and hydration for your body. Avoid adding salt, which dehydrates cells.
Ginger Ale for Stomach Flu?
Ginger ale is a common home remedy for stomach flu. Experts have debated its effectiveness as a treatment, as it contains high levels of sugar. Many people tout the benefits of carbonation to settle an upset stomach, but these claims are not corroborated by medical findings. Ginger itself is a natural anti-inflammatory and can be used to make teas or supplements to combat nausea and discomfort in the abdominal region.
What to Eat with Stomach Flu
Many people who have the stomach flu experience a loss of appetite, mostly due to the nausea and vomiting that come with the virus. While the key to fighting the stomach flu is staying hydrated, some doctors recommend specific diets and foods to help your body recover. Here are some tips for what to eat with the stomach flu:
- The BRAT diet – many physicians recommend a diet consisting of (B) bananas, (R) rice, (A) applesauce, and (T) toast to calm the gastrointestinal system during the stomach flu. The basis of this diet rests in the fact that these foods have low amounts of fiber, protein, and fat. Reduced fiber, protein, and fat intake slow the production of solid waste, which helps the body retain nutrients and decreases the frequency of bowel movements. This diet is not recommended for children, however, as many doctors believe that children need a more colorful and nutritious array of foods to help their immune systems battle the stomach flu.
- Chicken noodle soup – an age-old remedy for the stomach flu is chicken noodle soup and saltine crackers. The rationale behind this remedy cites the water content of the soup, which helps to rehydrate the body. Additional benefits come from the easily-digestible cooked vegetables and chicken that provide essential nutrients such as Vitamin A, potassium, and protein – nutrients that your body loses through vomit and diarrhea. Physicians recommend avoiding spicy soups, or broths with tomato or red meat bases, as these foods require more energy to digest and can aggravate the intestinal tract.
Medicine for Stomach Flu
Although gastroenteritis does not require formal medical attention, some medications can be helpful in minimizing the symptoms.
**Doctors recommend hydration as the first and most important treatment for gastroenteritis.
The following medications may help relieve symptoms of stomach flu:
- Ioperamide (Immodium) – anti-diarrheal medicines can help solidify the stool and reduce the effects of diarrhea.
- Promethazine – antiemetic (anti-nausea) medications disrupt the function of acetylcholine, a naturally-occurring chemical that produces feelings of nausea and motion sickness.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Ibuprofen) – analgesics reduce fever and alleviate aches and pains caused by abdominal inflammation.
These medications can be prescribed by a doctor to minimize the uncomfortable symptoms of a gastroenteritis, but aren’t necessarily remedies for stomach flu.
It is important to note that physicians recommend that children consume fluids and bland, easily digestible foods to beat stomach flu, as over-the-counter and prescription medications can further aggravate the gastrointestinal tract. Rest and hydration are most commonly advised to alleviate the symptoms of gastroenteritis.
Home Remedies for Stomach Flu
In addition to rest, hydration, and easily-digestible foods, there are many home remedies for stomach flu. The effectiveness of these remedies may vary from person to person, but all offer low-cost methods of treating gastroenteritis at home.
- Ginger – as mentioned earlier, ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory, reduces symptoms of nausea, and helps digestion. It is found in most grocery stores as lozenges, or fresh in the produce section.
- Peppermint – peppermint leaves is a natural pain reliever, and can be consumed as mints or infused in tea to relieve stomach aches and pains.
- Apple cider vinegar– apple cider vinegar is found in most grocery stores and can be diluted in water (if the taste is too strong) one tablespoon at a time. The bacteria in the solution promote a healthy gut, and for this reason, can be used as a preventative measure against the stomach flu.
How to Prevent the Stomach Flu
The viruses that cause the stomach flu are contagious and become more prevalent during the winter months. The most effective ways to prevent the spread of the stomach flu are to be vaccinated (and vaccinate your children) for Rotavirus, and to regularly wash your hands with warm water and soap.
Proper nutrition and adequate hydration can help protect you and your children from the stomach flu.
When to Contact Your Doctor
Most cases of stomach flu can be treated at home without professional medical attention. However, if symptoms worsen, it is important to contact your doctor immediately. This includes:
- Signs of extreme dehydration
- High fever (exceeding 102ºF)
- Vomiting for more than 48 hours
- Bloody diarrhea, or diarrhea for more than three days
Closely monitor stomach flu symptoms in children, and consult a physician should they experience a high fever. Fighting stomach flu makes your body more susceptible to dehydration, which can become very dangerous in children and adults alike. If you are experiencing these symptoms, contact a doctor or visit an urgent care near you.