Stomach pains are always difficult to self-diagnose because there are rarely any visible symptoms to examine, and lots of aches within your stomach feel similar. Two of the potential causes of stomach pain - also known as gastroenteritis - are food poisoning and stomach flu - but how do you differentiate between the two? Here’s how to identify the symptoms of both illnesses, and deal with any pain or discomfort during the infection period.
Differentiating between food poisoning and stomach flu
Both illnesses share a lot of symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, and a fever. As these are often the primary symptoms for both stomach flu and food poisoning, it’s important to identify the symptoms specific to each illness so that you can treat them correctly.
If you are experiencing blood in your diarrhea, sweating or exaggerate thirst, then these are all symptoms usually associated with food poisoning - it’s also important to remember that food poisoning is rarely an isolated event, and usually affects more than one person, so if your friends or family are experiencing similar symptoms, you can usually trace the symptoms back to a specific event or meal. Caused by virus, bacteria or parasites, food poisoning often causes severe and repetitive symptoms.
Stomach flu is usually from a virus, resulting in milder symptoms compared to food poisoning. The vomiting and diarrhea is usually accompanied by headaches during a bout of stomach flu, as well as weight loss and stiff joints. Typically, stomach flu heals faster than food poisoning.
What causes stomach flu and food poisoning?
Stomach flu, also known as viral gastroenteritis, is an intestinal infection which means that it is caused by eating or drinking contaminated food and drink, or coming into contact with an infected person. Contact can include sharing utensils, towels, or food with someone who is infected.
With food poisoning, the cause is specifically contaminated food - there are over 250 types of food poisoning, but the most common types are caused by raw meat and poultry, raw or undercooked eggs, outdated dairy products and raw shellfish.
As stomach flu is viral, antibiotics are ineffective and should not be used to treat this illness. There are no specific medical treatments to cure the symptoms, but Dr Chun - an esteemed GP from Pall Mall Medical - explains that you can be prescribed an antiemetic such as promethazine, prochlorperazine, metoclopramide, or ondansetron to stop the nausea and vomiting.
To relieve your symptoms, there are certain foods that you should look to avoid if you have stomach flu. It’s important to gradually introduce bland and easily digestible foods into your diet when you’re suffering with stomach flu, such as crackers, toast and bananas. If you start to feel sick again, stop eating - you should also avoid caffeine, alcohol and foods that are fatty or spicy.
Treating food poisoning
Your food poisoning symptoms should usually pass within a week, but it’s important to drink lots of water because you can become easily dehydrated. Drink water in little sips throughout the day.
Dairy products will likely upset your stomach, so avoid cheese, ice cream and yoghurt whilst you’re experiencing food poisoning symptoms
How can I prevent infection?
It’s critical to practice proper hand hygiene on a daily basis - this will limit the likelihood of catching medical conditions, not just stomach illnesses.
You can prevent stomach infections by being extra thorough in the kitchen - wash all fruit and vegetables extensively before consumption; ensure that all seafood, meat and poultry is cooked right through before serving and eating; ensure you clean and disinfect work surfaces after chopping meat, seafood and poultry. If you are sick yourself, avoid preparing meals for other people.
Stomach flu and food poisoning should heal of their own accord in several days, but if you are experiencing severe blood in your diarrhea and extreme dehydration, or if your symptoms are not improving, arrange an appointment with your doctor.