stomach flu vs food poisoning

We've all experienced that unpleasant feeling - you're fine one minute then bent over with your head in the toilet the next. Not only are stomach problems gross, but they keep you out of work and may even warrant a trip to the hospital.

You may not care what exact illness you have when your mid-vomit. However, trying to figure out what stomach problem you have is the first step in trying to treat it.

The stomach flu and food poisoning are two of the most common stomach problems in the United States. While they may seem similar, there are a few key differences that will help you determine which you have.

Do you want to know the difference between the stomach flu vs food poisoning? Keep reading to find out.

What Are They?

Before we jump into the symptoms and how to treat the stomach flu vs. food poisoning, it's important to know what exactly they are. Not only will this help you understand your illness better, but it can help you decide which you may have.

Stomach Flu

The stomach flu is caused by a virus that found it's way into your body. There are a few different viruses that can cause this, but the most popular are norovirus, adenovirus, and rotavirus. But, how does the virus find you?

The stomach flu is very contagious. You can catch it through direct contact from an infected person. While it is present during the entire year, it is more common during the winter because norovirus thrives in colder temperatures.

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning can also be caused by a virus, but it's a little different than the stomach flu. Instead of catching it through contact with an infected person, you contract food poisoning by eating food that has been contaminated. Viruses aren't the only cause of food poisoning - bacteria, like Salmonella and E. Coli, are also common culprits.

Much like the stomach flu, you can get food poisoning at any time throughout the year. However, unlike the stomach flu, it's more common in winter because the bacteria that can cause food poisoning prefers warm and humid climates. If you leave food out for too long in warm areas, undercook meat, cross-contaminate foods, or fail to wash produce before eating it, you may be at an increased risk of food poisoning.

What Are the Symptoms?

Alright, now that you know what they are, it's time to talk about what they are doing to your body. The most common symptoms between the two are the same, but there are a few differences that you'll need to look out for.

Stomach Flu

The most common symptoms associated with a stomach flu are diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and nausea. You may also experience constipation, stomach cramps, and joint stiffness. Since your body is doing a lot of purging but little to no eating and drinking, you're also at risk of losing weight and becoming dehydrated.

Typically, your symptoms will begin 1-2 days after you are exposed to the virus. If you have any friends or coworkers that you saw recently who have also succumbed to stomach problems (especially if you didn't eat the same foods), that's a good hint that it may be the stomach flu.

Food Poisoning

Just like the stomach flu, food poisoning commonly results in diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and nausea, weight loss, and dehydration. So, what's the difference between stomach flu vs. food poisoning?

Unlike the stomach flu, food poisoning may lead to fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and sweating. Symptoms normally appear 2-6 hours after eating bad food (although it could take up to 2 days), and symptoms come on strong and fast, whereas with the stomach flu, symptoms are a little milder and come on slower.

How Do You Cure Them?

Now that you know what you have, you're probably wondering how to make it stop! There are a few important steps you should take to ensure it doesn't worsen. However, if you have any concerns, a call to your doctor is your best bet.

Stomach Flu

Unfortunately, there's no medication to cure the stomach flu - you just have to wait it out and let your body fight it off. Your doctor may recommend rest and some medications to help with the symptoms, such as a laxative for constipation.

But that doesn't mean you don't need to do anything while you have the stomach flu. Dehydration can lead to serious complications. Be sure to drink plenty of water and drinks with electrolytes, like Gatorade. When you start to feel better, you can try to eat bland foods, such as cereal, bread, potatoes, bananas, and vegetables.

Food Poisoning

When it comes to treatment of food poisoning vs stomach flu, there's not much of a difference. Since you are still at risk for dehydration, you should drink enough fluids and get plenty of rest. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help subdue your symptoms, and hot and cold therapy may help with aches.

The main difference here is the possibility of getting a prescription to cure your food poisoning. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, although they only work with bacterial food poisoning - not viral.

Stomach Flu vs Food Poisoning

If you've spent your entire day in the bathroom with diarrhea, vomiting, and a fever, there's a good chance you got either the stomach flu or food poisoning. While they seem similar, there are a few key differences. When determining if it's the stomach flu vs food poisoning it's important to consider all factors, like what you ate, who you were around, and your complete symptom list.

Did you find this article helpful? Check out our blog for more content like this.

Further Reading


Viral Strains that Cause “Stomach Flu” Don’t All Look Alike

Staphylococcus aureus and its food poisoning toxins

On to you

What questions do you have? Let us know in the comments below and we'll be happy to help!

-Marc Kaplan

CEO, Save Rite Medical


Created with a vision of helping customers in anyway possible, Save Rite Medical CEO, Marc Kaplan, created the company and has grown it to become the leading internet provider of medical supplies. Through valuable products to educational information, Save Rite Medical is your #1 resource for medical supplies.