Nobody likes getting sick, especially when it’s the stomach flu: the fever, the nausea, the chills, the diarrhea, and the aches and pains add up to an awful feeling. While there is no cure for the stomach flu, the remedies below may help provide relief from this condition’s most difficult symptoms.
What Is the Stomach Flu?
The stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, can be caused by a number of different viruses that attack your gastrointestinal system. These viruses can be contracted from food that was inadequately prepared or in conditions with poor hygiene. People with the stomach flu often have symptoms of diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, fever, headache, and sore muscles. Depending on the type of virus you have, the flu can last from one to 10 days.
1. Drink the Right Fluids
Fluids are critically important when you have the stomach flu. You’re losing vital bodily fluids through sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea. Make sure you are drinking plenty of liquids! If you are having trouble keeping liquids down, try taking small sips at regular intervals or chew ice chips.
Clear liquids, such as water and broth, are the best type to consume. Older children and adults can also have sports drinks to help with electrolyte replacement during the stomach flu.
What Not to Drink
There’s no reason for caffeinated drinks like coffee, strong black tea, and chocolate when you have stomach flu, since you need to sleep. Likewise, there’s no need for alcohol, which acts as a diuretic and could upset your stomach more.
2. Eat the Right Food
Keeping food down can be difficult with the stomach flu. Don’t force yourself to eat if eating makes you feel nauseated.
The BRAT Diet – bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast – should be your go-to when it comes to an uneasy stomach. It consists of foods that are easy to digest, contain a lot of carbohydrates to give you energy, and replenish nutrients lost through vomiting and diarrhea.
- Bananas: Bananas are easy to digest and can replace the potassium you lose from vomiting and diarrhea.
- Rice: Brown rice has too much fiber, but white rice is easy to digest and provides energyfrom carbs.
- Applesauce: This is also easy to digest, can provide an energy boost due to the carbs and sugars, and also contains pectin, which can help with diarrhea.
- Toast: Avoid using whole wheat bread, as fiber can be difficult on the digestive system. White bread is very processed and is easier to digest.
What Not to Eat
The list of foods to avoid is much bigger than suggestions of what you might tolerate. General groups to avoid are dairy, fibrous foods, and anything fatty or spicy.
- Dairy: Not everyone has a problem with milk when they have the stomach flu, but it could be hard to digest.
- Fiber: You don’t need the extra fiber if your bowels are loose.
- Grease: Avoid the greasy and salty foods like bacon. Stay off tomato-based dishes, curries, and chili sauces.
3. A Healing Touch
Acupressure has been shown to be effective in some types of nausea. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center suggests finding pressure point P-6 by measuring the width of three fingers down from the bottom of your palm. Press below that width with your thumb and you’ll feel a sensitive spot between two tendons. Gently massage that spot with your thumb for two or three minutes.
First and foremost, if you have the stomach flu, your body needs rest in order to fight off the virus. You’ll need to get plenty of sleep and reduce the amount of activity you normally do during the day. This means lounging on the couch when you’re not in bed. Remember, you’re not being lazy—while you’re lying down, your body is working hard to fight off the virus and repair damage on the cellular level.
When you have the stomach flu, you can take medication, but you should do so sparingly. If you have a fever, headache, or muscle aches, ibuprofen can help, as long as it doesn’t cause you to have more of an upset stomach. Taking it sparingly with food is usually the best approach.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is usually recommended for stomach flu, unless you have liver disease. Avoid taking aspirin as well. Antibiotics won’t help with stomach flu because it is a condition caused by a virus, which antibiotics are unable fight.
If you are seeking relief from nausea or diarrhea, there are some prescription medications that your doctor can prescribe to ease your symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-emetic, such as promethazine, prochlorperazine, or metoclopramide, to stop the nausea and vomiting.
You can also try an over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication, such as loperamide hydrochloride (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), to alleviate your diarrheal symptoms. Check with your healthcare provider before trying over-the-counter medications.
Is Stomach Flu Contagious?
A virus causes stomach flu or gastroenteritis. The most common viruses are rotavirus or norovirus. Symptoms appear one to three days after exposure to the virus. You are contagious before you even begin to develop symptoms. Even after you’ve recovered from your symptoms, you can remain contagious for up to two weeks. Children can remain contagious for an even longer period afterwards. There are vaccines available for some forms of rotavirus. If possible, avoid close contact with infected people. Do not share food with infected people, and wash hands frequently.
Preventing the Stomach Flu
Having the stomach flu can make you feel miserable. If you do get it, these remedies can help reduce some of the misery. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Some basic ways to avoid getting the stomach flu (and illness in general) include washing your hands regularly and getting plenty of rest.
You Asked, We Answered
- What are the odds I'll get stomach flu?- Anonymous
The stomach flu is also called the norovirus. It is very contagious and can infect anyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the norovirus causes over 19 to 21 million illnesses each year. If you or someone in your house has the norovirus, it is important to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus by hand washing with soap and water, cleaning all surfaces you may have touched, and washing contaminated clothing.- Jeanne Morrison, PhD, MSN