Is It Food Poisoning or the Stomach Flu?

Being seriously sick is never enjoyable, but when you can’t pinpoint the cause of the sickness, it can be that much more frustrating. Not knowing how or why you got sick or what the best treatment options are can be incredibly stressful and can take a toll on your already ill body. If you’ve found yourself with abdominal pain or cramping, nausea and vomiting, or diarrhea, you may find yourself wondering if you have gotten food poisoning or if you’ve contracted the stomach flu. Here are a few ways to know spot the difference between the stomach flu vs. food poisoning and how to proceed with getting better.


While the primary food poisoning symptoms and stomach flu symptoms of both these issues are the same, they each have additional symptoms that can help you determine which illness you’re facing.

Food poisoning symptoms include the following:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • High fever
  • Blood in vomit or stools
  • Headaches
  • Weakness & blurry vision
  • Bloating
  • Liver problems
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning sensations
  • Renal problems
  • Seizures

Stomach flu symptoms include the following:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Increasingly severe abdominal pain
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness
  • Dry skin and dry mouth

How to Know the Difference

It’s not always easy to spot the differences between the stomach flu and food poisoning. One big way to know which you’re suffering from is to know how long each lasts.

How long does the stomach flu last?

The stomach flu generally lasts from one to five days and typically clears up on its own. It is generally viral, so antibiotics will not help get rid of it.

How long does food poisoning last?

Food poisoning usually clears up on its own too, but can last anywhere from a few hours to several days. Food poisoning can usually be traced back to improperly prepared food, such as eggs, poultry, meats, and unpasteurized products. Food poisoning can be more serious if the body isn’t able to rid itself of the harmful bacteria, and if your suspected food poisoning hasn’t subsided within 72 hours, it’s best to seek medical care.

Treatment Options

The basic treatment options for both the stomach flu and food poisoning are the same. The most important thing to do with both is to minimize dehydration by consuming clear and low-sugar liquids, such as water, chicken broth, and electrolyte drinks. Avoid beverages that are too sugary or add to dehydration, such as coffee, tea, sodas, sports drinks, and fruit juices. Encourage small sips of approved liquids and encourage small bites of food from the BRAT diet only when hungry. The BRAT diet includes bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. The toast should be plain, and plain crackers can be substituted. Just as with the liquids, take it slow when eating again. If these stomach flu and food poisoning treatments don’t work, come in to a nearby NCHS location to learn more about the stomach flu vs. food poisoning and how to overcome each.