I have Severe Abdominal Pain: Is It Stomach Bug or Food Poisoning?


Almost everyone has experienced abdominal pain, either as a result of stomach flu or food poisoning. However, although we tend to confuse both of these situations, the two are different in how they spread. Knowing the difference between food poisoning and stomach flu is critical in the diagnosis and treatment.

1. The Cause and Transmission

Yes, both stomach flu and food poisoning cause abdominal pain, but they are triggered by different organisms. A stomach bug is caused by a virus (norovirus) and is highly contagious—you become contagious as soon as you begin to have the symptoms and also a few days after you recover.

The stomach bug spreads through eating contaminated foods or having direct contact with an infected person or a surface.

Food poisoning, on the other hand, is mostly caused by bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. Ready-to-eat foods like salads and uncooked foods are the main culprits of food poisoning.

Bacteria proliferate in foods like dairy and meat products, and not cooking your meat properly can get you infected.

2. The Symptoms

Food poisoning and stomach bugs have similar symptoms, making them hard to distinguish. Stomach virus symptoms occur within 24 hours after contact, and they include:

  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Headaches
  • Stomach cramps
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness

These stomach bug symptoms last between three and 14 days, depending on severity. However, if you have uncontrolled vomiting for more than four hours, you should visit an emergency room near you.

Food poisoning symptoms appear within hours after consumption of the contaminated food, and the symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Cramping
  • Body chills and aches
  • Dehydration
  • Dizziness

3. The Treatment

The treatment for stomach flu and food poisoning is different. Because a virus causes the stomach bug, antibiotics will not work. However, the doctor may recommend rest, hydration, electrolytes, and fever medication.

For food poisoning, you may take antibiotics if bacteria are the cause of the infection, but home remedies can also help:

  • Avoid taking solid food until the stomach rests. When you resume taking solid foods, start with easy-to-digest foods.
  • Hydrate and do not take sugary beverages or juices, as they can make diarrhea worse. Dehydration slows down vital body function, so walk into a clinic next year for urgent assistance if you experience dizziness, fatigue, lethargy, and a decrease in urination frequency.
  • Stay away from substances such as dairy, alcohol, sugar, and highly seasoned foods.

Be cautious about taking over-the-counter medications unless advised by the doctor because some can make the situation worse.

When to Seek Medical Attention?

The stomach bug will clear within a few days, even without medication. However, visit the nearest emergency room if you experience bloody stool or vomiting, high fever of 104 F, severe abdominal pain, and dizziness.

How to Prevent Stomach Virus and Food Poisoning?

A stomach virus is the most common infection, affecting about 21 million people every year. The good news is it is preventable, and here are a few guidelines:

  • Maintain proper hygiene throughout the day, especially when handling food. Wash your hands after using the washrooms, changing diapers, and before food preparation.
  • Clean your vegetables well and cook food thoroughly
  • Separately clean the clothes with vomit and stool residue in hot water as they still have the virus
  • Wipe the contaminated surfaces with alcohol to disinfect them
  • Avoid contact with the infected person.
  • Stomach flu vaccination is also available and can help to reduce the severity of the symptoms.

When it comes to food poisoning, you can easily prevent it by avoiding raw or uncooked food, such as salads and eggs. Plus, wash your hands before handling raw meat and ensure it cooks thoroughly to get rid of the bacteria.

Get the Necessary Help

Both food poisoning and stomach virus can resolve within a few days, and with proper hygiene, you can prevent a reoccurrence. But, if the symptoms worsen and you develop fever and bloody stool, don’t hesitate to come to Express ER in Temple for treatment. We have a 24-hour emergency room equipped to cater to different emergencies.

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