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How to Treat Stomach Flu Virus (Gastroenteritis) Symptoms

People often mistakenly believe that the flu we get vaccinated for is the same virus that causes the stomach flu, but a stomach virus isn't really a flu at all. It's called gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, and can be caused by a variety of different viruses (like norovirus or rotavirus). We all know the dreaded flu symptoms - sudden onset of vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps; and if you've had it, you know how miserable and helpless it can make you feel.

How to treat vomiting with stomach flu

If nothing stays down, not even a sip of water, it is best to let the worst of the vomiting pass without trying to hydrate. This should only last a few hours. If you get to 12 hours and still cannot drink without vomiting, seek medical attention (for children, it's only 8 hours).

If you reach a point where vomiting hasn't completely ceased, but you can keep small amounts of water down, just keep drinking small amounts throughout the day. Once vomiting stops, it's okay to try reintroducing food - slowly, and in small amounts.


What to eat with the stomach flu

The most commonly recommended diet for when you are able to keep food down again is the "B.R.A.T. diet." These are the four most easily digested foods that won't exacerbate the intestinal inflammation associated with gastroenteritis:

  • B - bananas
  • R - rice
  • A - applesauce
  • T - toast

If you can't or prefer not to eat these things, there are plenty of other options for stomach ache foods:

  • Saltine crackers
  • Cheerio's
  • Oatmeal or Cream of Wheat
  • J-ello
  • spinach or zucchini
  • broths

Things to avoid:

  • Protein - it's hard to digest, and when your gut is inflamed, eating meat, eggs or legumes will only further irritate your bowel.
  • Sugar/sweetened beverages - sugar will only make diarrhea worse, so avoid candy, fruit juice and sodas (yes, even 7-Up).

Serious risks of the stomach flu

There are a couple of dangers to watch out for when fighting the stomach flu, as they can lead to hospitalization, or even death.

Dehydration - this is the most common complication of the stomach flu, and can easily land you in the hospital. Symptoms of dehydration are:

  • dry mouth and eyes, swollen tongue
  • weakness, fatigue
  • confusion, lightheadedness or fainting
  • rapid heart rate
  • inability to sweat
  • decreased urine output (and urine will be dark yellow)

Water intoxication - also referred to as water poisoning, this condition is caused by drinking too much water. Water intoxication can lead to disorientation, seizures, coma and death. It sounds silly, because logic would tell you that if you have diarrhea and vomiting, you should drink as much water as possible to prevent dehydration. However, water alone cannot replace the sodium lost while purging. It is best to drink sports drinks, like Gatorade (I water it down); or another electrolyte-replacing drink, such as SmartWater. If you don't have access to either of these, adding a little salt to a glass of water will work, too.

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Prevent the spread of flu

While stomach flu is generally a 24-48 hour bug, it is incredibly contagious; and the virus can live on surfaces for a number of days after being touched by an infected person. It is very important to use proper hand washing and to disinfect anything that a person with the stomach flu has touched.

© 2013 Katie Adams


Katie Adams (author) from Midwest on September 16, 2013:

Stick with sips of water for now then.

Diana on September 16, 2013:

I have it now. Can't keep anything down. Even the Pepto Bismol came up.

Katie Adams (author) from Midwest on August 03, 2013:

You're welcome. Just be careful giving too much sugar...that can exacerbate diarrhea. Watered down frozen Gatorade (original) would be better.

Pam on August 03, 2013:

Very useful reminder. It's been awhile since my house had the stomach bug and I wasn't sure what could be eaten after the vomiting subsides. I keep ice pops in the freezer which seems to help with the rehydration too. Thank.

K on July 28, 2013:

Thanks for the information.

Nicole A. Winter from Chicago, IL on April 26, 2013:

Thanks for publishing this, very useful information! I *love* SmartWater, I think the stuff is great. I'll definitely keep this on hand for the next time me or mine comes down with the dreaded bug. Voted up & useful, pinned & shared.

Stephanie Henkel from USA on April 26, 2013:

My family and I all had a stomach flu this past spring, and it was as miserable as you say. We all lived on water, chicken broth, tea and crackers for a few days, but it left us feeling week and unsettled. You do need a week or so to recover fully.

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