Most people make a full recovery from the stomach flu without any complications. Getting enough rest and staying hydrated with clear liquids are beneficial, and easy-to-digest foods may be best.

Nobody likes getting sick, but the stomach flu delivers its own brutal mix of symptoms. When it hits, it can quickly render you nonfunctional and utterly miserable (i.e., lying on the bathroom floor within constant reach of the sink or toilet).

The initial stages start with chills, fever, and nausea, which transition into vomiting, diarrhea, and severe aches and pains. It’s awful, and there is no cure. Stomach flu has to run its course.

That said, the remedies below may relieve the most difficult symptoms and help get you back on your feet once the toughest phase subsides.

Fluids are critically important since you lose vital bodily fluids through sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea.

If you’re having trouble keeping liquids down, try taking small sips at regular intervals or chewing ice chips.

The best fluids to drink are:

  • clear liquids, such as water and broth
  • over-the-counter preparations like Pedialyte (good choice for any age)
  • sports drinks, which can help with electrolyte replacement (this should be reserved for older children and adults)
  • certain teas, such as ginger and peppermint, which can help calm your stomach and alleviate nausea (avoid highly caffeinated teas)

What not to drink

Most likely, you won’t be in the mood for these during a bout of stomach flu anyway, but avoid:

  • caffeinated drinks like coffee, strong black tea, and chocolate can affect your sleep at a time when getting enough rest is crucial
  • alcohol, which acts as a diuretic, meaning it can cause additional fluid loss.

All of these things can also upset your stomach.

Keeping food down can be difficult with the stomach flu. Don’t force yourself to eat if the mere thought of food makes you cringe. When you do finally feel you can get something down, it’s best to start slow and simple.

The BRAT diet — bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast — can be your go-to for an uneasy stomach. These four foods are easy to digest, contain carbohydrates to give you energy, and replenish nutrients:

  • Bananas: Bananas can replace the potassium you lose from vomiting and diarrhea and strengthen your stomach lining.
  • Rice: White rice is easy for your body to process and provides energy from carbs. Brown rice has too much fiber and may produce excess gas.
  • Applesauce: Applesauce provides an energy boost due to the carbs and sugars, and it contains pectin, which can help with diarrhea.
  • Toast: Avoid whole-wheat bread, as fiber can be difficult on the digestive system. White bread is processed and easier to digest.

BRAT diet for children

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) no longer recommends the BRAT diet for children because it’s considered too nutritionally restrictive.

For both adults and children, the BRAT diet might be better than no food at all, but it’s advisable to return to a balanced diet as soon as you can stomach it.

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What not to eat

Generally, avoid dairy, fibrous foods, and anything fatty or spicy.

  • Dairy: Not everyone has a problem with cow’s milk when they have the stomach flu, but it could be hard to digest and can aggravate gas and diarrhea.
  • Fiber: You don’t need the extra fiber if your bowels are loose.
  • Grease: Avoid greasy and salty foods like bacon.
  • Spices: Avoid acidic tomato-based dishes, curries, and chili sauces.

Acupressure has been shown to be effective in treating 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 with your thumb for two or three minutes.

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.

While you’re resting, your body works hard to fight off the infection and repair damage on the cellular level.

The stomach flu can’t be cured by medications, and antibiotics won’t help when a virus is the culprit.

For fever or aches, ibuprofen (Advil) can help, as long as it doesn’t cause you to have more of an upset stomach. It can also be hard on your kidneys if you get dehydrated. Take it sparingly and with food. Children should only take ibuprofen after 6 months of age.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is often recommended for the stomach flu unless you have liver disease. It relieves fever and aches, has fewer side effects than ibuprofen, and is less likely to irritate your stomach.

Your doctor may prescribe an antiemetic such as promethazine, prochlorperazine, metoclopramide, or ondansetron to stop the nausea and vomiting.

You can also try an over-the-counter (OTC) antidiarrheal medication, such as loperamide hydrochloride (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). That said, as your doctor first because it can interact with other medications.

In addition, OTC antidiarrheal medications are not recommended for children because they contain salicylate, which can cause Reye’s syndrome.

As terrible as it is to get the stomach flu yourself, it’s even harder to watch your child go through it. If your infant’s symptoms haven’t subsided in a day or two, take them to the doctor.

Their doctor can make sure your child is on their way to recovery without any complications. They can also check to ensure no other causes for their symptoms.

Encouraging children to continue to take sips of water (or, in infants, breast milk or formula) to replace lost fluids is important to prevent dehydration. All infants and toddlers can also drink an electrolyte solution like Pedialyte.

The stomach flu (also known as gastroenteritis) can be caused by a number of different viruses that can attack your gastrointestinal system. It’s not caused by the influenza virus, which gives you the seasonal flu.

Less often, bacteria can cause it, typically due to contaminated water or food that was prepared inadequately or in an unhygienic environment.

Note that children can experience symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea from influenza (the flu), which is different than the stomach flu. It’s important to see their pediatrician to determine the cause of the symptoms.

If you know the stomach flu is going around, take extra precautions. Avoid close contact with people who are sick if at all possible, and wash your hands frequently.

Here are additional methods of prevention:

  • Use the dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand when possible.
  • Use soap and water instead of hand sanitizer.
  • Wipe off shopping cart handles.
  • Clean countertops and surfaces with a disinfectant spray, and be sure to wash clothes and bedding as well.

Is stomach flu contagious?

The stomach flu is contagious. Symptoms appear one to three days after exposure to the virus, so you’re contagious before developing symptoms.

And 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 afterward.

How long does stomach flu last?

How long the stomach flu lasts depends on the specific virus causing it, but it’s generally a few days to a week in most cases.

What helps the stomach flu go away?

In most cases, the stomach flu just has to run its course. That said, drinking fluids and taking over-the-counter medications such as ch as loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) can help keep you more comfortable while you’re recovering. Do not give these medications to children, and ask your doctor before trying them.

While the stomach flu is definitely not a pleasant experience, most people make a full recovery without any complications. Staying hydrated throughout the course of the illness can be the biggest challenge.

There’s not much to do for the stomach flu except wait it out and use the above remedies.

Seek medical attention if you haven’t been able to keep down liquids for 24 hours, are showing any signs of dehydration, are vomiting blood, have bloody diarrhea, or have a fever above 102°F (38°C).