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. The mere thought of contracting the stomach flu virus may make you want to stay inside if there’s a bug going around. While there is no cure for the stomach flu, the remedies below may help provide relief from this condition’s most difficult symptoms.
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 due to poor hand-washing 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.
The stomach flu is not truly “the flu,” or influenza. Influenza is caused by a virus that attacks your respiratory system—that is, your nose, throat, and lungs.
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.
Fluids are important when battling the stomach flu. Make sure you are drinking plenty of liquids, especially if you have a fever or are vomiting. It’s very easy to become dehydrated when you have the stomach flu. 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.
If you are having trouble keeping liquids down, try taking small sips at regular intervals. You may also want to try ginger tea or clear soda to help reduce nausea.
Some beverages may make your stomach flu or nausea worse. You should avoid coffee, alcohol, soda, and caffeinated tea, as these drinks can potentially upset your stomach. If you have diarrhea, avoid drinking juices because they can make this symptom worse.
Keeping food down can be difficult with the stomach flu. If you can eat, stick to plain food like crackers, cereal, toast, rice, and potatoes. Small amounts of yogurt, bananas, and fresh apples can also help with diarrhea. Don’t force yourself to eat if eating makes you feel nauseated.
You should avoid eating foods containing caffeine, dairy products, spicy foods, and high-fat foods. These foods may aggravate your stomach and subsequently make your nausea and diarrhea worse.
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.
Taking 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.
Before taking any medications for stomach flu, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider.
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 It 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.
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.