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How to Get Rid of the Stomach Flu

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How to Get Rid of the Stomach Flu

writtenByWritten by: Laurel Klafehn
Laurel Klafehn

Laurel Klafehn

Laurel is a linguist at heart and studying to become a Certified Spanish Interpreter and Translator. She believes in making quality healthcare accessible, and is proud of PlushCare's mission to do so.

Read more posts by this author.

March 31, 2021 Read Time - 11 minutes

Stomach Flu Symptoms, Remedies, and Treatment Options

The stomach flu is a common term used to describe inflammation and irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. Contrary to popular belief, the stomach flu is not a form of influenza, which refers to a respiratory system infection.

Instead, the stomach flu, also called “gastroenteritis,” is a viral stomach infection. With proper care, the symptoms of gastroenteritis will typically show improvement within 2–7 days.



Learn more about how to get rid of the stomach flu and tips to help you prevent the spread of the virus.

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What Is the Stomach Flu?

The stomach flu, also called “gastroenteritis,” is a common virus characterized by watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and nausea or vomiting.

Stomach infections are highly contagious, and spread 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.

What Causes Stomach Flu?

The stomach flu can be caused by the norovirus or rotavirus. According to Cleveland Clinic, “Norovirus is often the culprit for adults, while rotavirus is frequently to blame for stomach flu in children,” with both viruses infecting the lining of the small intestine.

While the stomach flu usually goes 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 4 years. Stomach flu is more prevalent in developing countries with little access to clean water or facilities.

Stomach Flu Symptoms

Common stomach virus signs and symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea – When infected, the large intestine is unable to absorb fluids, which causes the stool to be loose and watery. Contact your doctor if diarrhea persists for more than 3 days.
  • 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 often associated with motion sickness and is sometimes followed by vomiting. As a symptom of the stomach flu, nausea is often caused by dehydration, loss of appetite, and abdominal discomfort.
  • Vomiting – Vomiting is caused by the inflammation of the intestines. 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 the body’s core temperature is above normal (98.6 ºF) and is an indication that your body is battling an infection. Fevers do not require medical attention unless temperature exceeds 102 ºF. A high fever can indicate a serious infection or other problem. Especially in children, a high fever can lead to life-threatening conditions. Seek medical attention if you or your child experiences a high fever, especially if the 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. 

While most people experience similar symptoms of stomach flu, other symptoms can indicate more serious conditions and should be discussed with a doctor.

Stomach Flu Remedies

The stomach flu and its accompanying symptoms can usually be treated at home and do not require professional medical attention. 

Because gastroenteritis is a viral infection, antibiotics are not an effective stomach virus remedy and should not be used to treat the stomach flu. “Antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses,” according to Mayo Clinic. “Overusing [antibiotics] can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.”

Fortunately, there are several stomach flu remedies to help your body fight the stomach flu and 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 dangerous and can lead to more serious problems. 

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 include:

  • 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.
  • Avoiding 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.
  • Consuming ice chips and infused water – Eating ice chips can be soothing to your stomach, and will increase your water intake.
  • Drinking water more frequently – While the stomach flu can make drinking water unappealing, drinking a few ounces of water more frequently 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.
  • Drinking 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.

While ginger ale is a common stomach virus remedy, 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.

Medicine for Stomach Flu

Although most cases of gastroenteritis do not require formal medical attention, some medications can help to manage uncomfortable symptoms. With that said, doctors recommend hydration as the first-line treatment for gastroenteritis.

The following medications may help relieve symptoms of the stomach flu:

  • Loperamide (Imodium) – Antidiarrheal medicines can help solidify the stool and reduce the effects of diarrhea.
  • Promethazine – Antiemetic (antinausea) 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 manage the symptoms of a stomach infection, but they are not necessarily stomach virus remedies. If you’re experiencing uncomfortable or long-lasting symptoms, ask your doctor how to get rid of the stomach flu.

Physicians recommend that children consume fluids and bland, easily digestible foods to manage stomach flu symptoms, 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 the stomach flu. The effectiveness of home remedies may vary from person to person, but all offer low-cost methods of treating gastroenteritis at home.

Popular at-home the stomach flu remedies include:

  • Ginger – As mentioned earlier, ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory agent, reduces the symptoms of nausea, and helps digestion. Ginger is found in most grocery stores as lozenges, or you can find it fresh in the produce section.
  • Peppermint – Peppermint leaves are 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). Apple cider vinegar should be consumed 1 tablespoon at a time. The bacteria promote a healthy gut, making apple cider vinegar an effective preventive measure against the stomach flu.
  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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Stomach Flu: What to Eat

Many people who have the stomach flu experience a loss of appetite, mostly due to the nausea and vomiting that come with the virus. Specific foods to eat during the stomach flu include soup and other light foods to calm your stomach.

While the key to fighting the stomach flu is staying hydrated, some doctors recommend specific diets and foods to help your body recover, including:

  • The BRAT diet – Many physicians recommend a diet consisting of (B) bananas, (R) rice, (A) applesauce, and (T) toast to calm the gastrointestinal system, as 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, as the water content of the soup helps to rehydrate the body. Additional benefits come from easily digestible cooked vegetables and chicken, which provide essential nutrients such as Vitamin A, potassium, and protein. 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.

How Long Does Stomach Flu Last?

Depending on the cause of your stomach infections, your symptoms may last anywhere from 1–10 days. Understanding how long stomach flu lasts can help you determine whether you’re suffering from a stomach virus, food poisoning, or another condition.

Viral gastroenteritis symptoms typically appear within 1–3 days of infection, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. While symptoms usually last between 1–2 days, they can last as long as 10 days.

When Should I Go to the Doctor for Stomach Flu?

You should contact your doctor immediately if your stomach infection symptoms worsen. While most cases of stomach flu can be treated at home, some people require professional medical attention.

Contact your doctor if you’re experiencing:

  • Signs of extreme dehydration (i.e, dark yellow urine, no urination, dry mouth, lightheadedness)
  • High fever (exceeding 102 ºF)
  • Vomiting for more than 48 hours
  • Bloody diarrhea, or diarrhea for more than 3 days

It’s essential to closely monitor stomach flu symptoms in children. If your child has a high fever, consult your physician as soon as possible.

Fighting the stomach flu makes your body more susceptible to dehydration, which can be dangerous in children and adults. If you’re experiencing any severe symptoms, contact a doctor or visit an urgent care near you to find out how to get rid of the stomach flu and rehydrate your body.

How to Prevent the Stomach Flu

Getting vaccinated for Rotavirus and regularly washing your hands with warm water and soap are the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the stomach flu. 

“There’s no effective treatment for viral gastroenteritis, so prevention is key,” according to Mayo Clinic. Proper nutrition and adequate hydration can help protect you and your children from the stomach flu.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

Get Stomach Flu Treatment Online

If you’re experiencing diarrhea, dehydration, fever, or any other uncomfortable symptoms, it’s important to contact your doctor to find out how to get rid of the stomach flu. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment can also help you determine whether you’re suffering from stomach flu or food poisoning.

With PlushCare, you can schedule a phone or video appointment with a trusted doctor from the comfort of your own home. Your PlushCare doctor can diagnose your stomach flu and help you determine the best treatment options for your infection.

Click here to book an appointment with one of our doctors today.


Read More About Stomach Pain


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Cleveland Clinic. Stomach Flu (Gastroenteritis). Accessed on March 11, 2021 at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12418-gastroenteritis 

Mayo Clinic. Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu). Accessed on March 11, 2021 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/viral-gastroenteritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20378847 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Symptoms of Norovirus. Accessed on March 11, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/about/symptoms.html 

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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