You’re vomiting. You can’t stop going to the bathroom. You’re exhausted and all this terribleness just seems to have come out of nowhere. Could it be the stomach flu? If it is, you probably want to know how to get rid of the stomach flu fast!
If you have the stomach flu, it likely may have been caused by norovirus, which is especially known for infecting people in the colder months of the year. This “winter vomiting bug,” or stomach flu, is known by doctors for being “a family affair.” In other words, if one person in the family gets it, most likely every family member in the household will get it because it’s that contagious! (1, 2)
How do you get rid of the stomach flu? Thankfully, many people with the stomach flu feel better within 24 hours. And luckily there are a lot of great natural ways to boost your recovery from a nasty case of stomach flu.
Stomach Flu Symptoms
Gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu, causes irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestines. When you have the “real” flu, as in influenza, it affects only your respiratory system (your nose, throat and lungs), but the stomach flu is totally different. When you have the stomach flu or a stomach virus, your gastrointestinal system is under attack. This can cause many unpleasant symptoms. These symptoms may overlap with influenza symptoms. But the symptoms are not identical and they are not caused by the same virus. Viral infections are the top cause of gastroenteritis. However, certain types of bacteria or parasites and food-borne illnesses (such as from undercooked shellfish) can also lead to a case of stomach flu. (3)
The stomach flu, also known medically as viral gastroenteritis, can cause the following symptoms: (4)
- Watery, typically non-bloody diarrhea (bloody stools typically indicate that you have a different, more severe infection)
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Nausea, vomiting or both
- Chills and muscle aches
- Low-grade fever
- Loss of appetite
Stomach flu symptoms usually come on within one to three days after you’re infected, but the time frame can vary depending on what is at the root of your infection. Stomach flu symptoms can also vary from mild to severe. What about 24-hour stomach virus symptoms? It is certainly possible to have symptoms for only about 24 hours. The symptoms just mentioned above typically last only one day (24 hours) to two days, but sometimes they can last as long as 10 days. Every case of the stomach flu can definitely be different.
So how how long does stomach flu last in adults? Anywhere from 24 hours to 10 days, but more commonly on the lower end of that spectrum. Knowing how to get rid of the stomach flu typically doesn’t require any medication or much intervention, but more on that later.
But wait — how can you tell if you have the stomach flu vs. food poisoning? The truth is that the symptoms of both of these health concerns can be virtually identical and, to some degree, they are sometimes different names for the same thing. There actually is a medical reason for why the stomach flu and food poisoning are so alike. First off, the norovirus can cause both the stomach flu and food poisoning. However, “food poisoning” is said to occur from the ingestion of a food-borne pathogen, while gastroenteritis, or “stomach flu,” occurs as the result of any kind of exposure but most commonly from person to person. (5)
Stomach Flu Causes and Risk Factors
What are stomach flu causes? A number of different viruses can cause viral gastroenteritis or stomach flu including noroviruses and rotaviruses. First, let’s talk about the norovirus, which is said to be the number one cause of viral gastroenteritis in children and adults. If your stomach flu is caused by the norovirus, then the period during which you are contagious starts from the time you start to feel sick up until three days after you are better with some individuals being contagious as long as two weeks following their recovery. The norovirus causes stomach flu symptoms within a day or two of being exposed to the virus. On the plus side, most people who have the stomach flu due to norovirus feel better within 24 to 48 hours.
Another virus, the rotavirus, is the top cause of stomach flu in kids and infants, but it can also affect adults. Symptoms usually begin within one to three days of exposure. However, with this virus at the root, the stomach flu can be caught from someone before symptoms appear and even up to two weeks following recovery! (6) Astrovirus and enteric adenovirus can also cause stomach flu. (7)
How do you catch these viruses and end up with the stomach flu? The stool and vomit of infected individuals contain the viruses that cause stomach flu. The viruses that can cause a case of the stomach flu can easily spread from close contact with infected individuals through the following: (8)
- By sharing food, drinks or eating utensils
- By providing health care to someone with the stomach flu or being the parent to a child with the stomach flu
- Touching contaminated objects or surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes
Some norovirus outbreaks have also come from eating undercooked oysters or raw fruits and vegetables. (9) Contagious gastroenteritis can also be caused by bacteria including Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli or less commonly, by parasites including Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, and others.
People at the greatest risk for a severe stomach flu infection include young children, older adults, and anyone who has a suppressed immune system. (10) Outbreaks of stomach flu caused by norovirus commonly occur in “semi-closed environments” such as cruise ships, schools, nursing homes and hospitals.
Is the stomach flu contagious? It is definitely contagious. Someone who has the stomach flu can be contagious for a few days up to 14 days or longer. The period is determined by which exact virus is causing a case of the stomach flu. (11)
So how do you get rid of the stomach flu?
Stomach Flu Conventional Treatment
It’s important to note that the flu shot absolutely does not protect against what is commonly called the stomach flu. Why not? Because the flu shot is for the influenza virus and the influenza virus does not cause viral gastroenteritis. (12)
Are you wondering how to get rid of the stomach flu with medication or maybe even prevent it with a vaccine? A vaccine or antibiotic treatment does not currently exist to treat stomach flu caused by norovirus. It also makes sense that how to get rid of a stomach virus would not involve antibiotics since antibiotics do not work against viruses. (13)
Conventional recommendations for how to get rid of a stomach virus may likely include recommendations for prescription and nonprescription medicines to prevent nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. However, experts in the medical field advise not giving children over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications, unless advised by your doctor. Why? Because these medications make it more difficult for your child’s body to eliminate the virus. (15) In my opinion, that makes perfect sense and applies to adults as well.
Conventionally speaking, how to get rid of the stomach flu with a fever may include a recommendation to take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol). Note that it’s important to follow dosing recommendations to avoid a dangerous acetaminophen overdose. Conventional recommendations for foods and beverages for stomach flu sufferers often include sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade, ginger ale and broths. (16)
According to the Mayo Clinic:
There’s often no specific medical treatment for viral gastroenteritis. Antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses, and overusing them can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Treatment initially consists of self-care measures. (17)
So when it comes to how to get rid of the stomach flu, this is one of those times when conventional treatment and natural treatment tend to overlap. Knowing how to get rid of the stomach flu basically involves patience and some good old-fashioned natural remedies in the comfort of your home. In fact, figuring out how to get rid of the stomach flu is actually pretty basic and straight forward.
How to Get Rid of the Stomach Flu: 7 Home Remedies That Can Help
Getting rid of a stomach virus can actually be as simple as waiting 24 to 28 hours for symptoms to subside. If you’re looking to feel better faster and recover well from the stomach flu, there are some natural remedies that you can easily do at home that have been known to help boost the recovery process. (18)
Do you know what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say about how to get rid of stomach flu caused by the norovirus? According to the CDC:
There is no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is a viral (not a bacterial) infection. If you have norovirus illness, you should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from throwing up and diarrhea. This will help prevent dehydration. (19)
When you have the stomach flu, you’re most likely dealing with diarrhea and/or vomiting. Both of these symptoms mean a lot of water loss for your body and the chance of dehydration which only makes you feel that much worse. To avoid becoming dehydrated from the stomach flu, it’s really important that you consume a lot of clear liquids like water, coconut water and herbal tea.
If you’ve been vomiting or your stomach is just very upset, it’s recommended that you avoid solids foods for a few hours. In the meantime, suck on ice chips or sip water in small quantities to stay hydrated. Bone broth and natural noncaffeinated electrolyte beverages can are also great choices. Take small sips often throughout each day to avoid dehydration. (20) When you feel like eating again, watermelon is a great hydrating fruit choice.
2. What To Eat
In a daze of stomach flu symptoms, you may be searching online for “stomach flu what to eat?” Well first off, it’s a good idea to ease back into eating solid foods and not to force yourself to eat if you’re feeling nauseous. The BRAT diet (BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) is commonly recommended for people recovering from the stomach flu. Why these four foods? They are all typically easy on the stomach and can also up bind up stools, which is helpful when you’re struggling with diarrhea. These simple foods can be a great start for the first hours or day of eating solid foods when you’re recovering from stomach flu. Just don’t rely on the BRAT diet long term because research has shown that this diet is too low in vital nutrients, especially for children. (21)
3. What Not to Eat
You want to know how to get rid of the stomach flu fast? Well, what you don’t put into your body can be just as important or helpful as what you do put into your body! If you have the stomach flu, there are certain foods and drinks you’ll want to avoid until you’re feeling better.
The general categories of foods to avoid as much as possible include:
- Tomato products
- Any foods that are fatty, greasy, spicy and/or salty
All of these foods are known to be hard on an upset and temperamental tummy. I know it may be hard to go a day without your caffeine of choice, but coffee and caffeinated sodas are known for their ability to make the intestines contract. This can only make diarrhea more severe. Alcohol is also a terrible idea because it will only increase the likelihood of dehydration. Plus it upsets the gut. (22)
No list for how to get rid of the stomach flu would be complete without rest. One of the most simple and natural ways to encourage recovery from illness is to take it easy. How to get rid of the stomach flu naturally without a doubt involves some waiting and resting. Since most cases don’t last a long time, you hopefully won’t have to deal with unpleasant symptoms for too long. But if you’ve had the stomach flu before then you know how it can really take a lot out of you. Between the vomiting and diarrhea alone, rest is not just helpful but likely exactly what you’re wanting to do since fatigue is another symptom of the stomach flu. (23)
5. Try a Cool Compress
Not to say that a cool compress is going to take away your nausea or diarrhea, but if you have a low grade fever and are feeling exhausted, putting a cool, damp cloth on your forehead may help you to feel a little bit better. It’s a also a perfect addition to resting on the couch or in your bed. How to get rid of the stomach flu naturally means treating yourself to comforting details like this so that the time feeling sick is a little more bearable.
6. Herbal Tea Time
Teas like peppermint and ginger are great for calming a queasy stomach, plus they are a tasty way to rehydrate. (24) Ginger is also well-known for being a natural, inexpensive and effective natural remedy for nausea and vomiting. (25) Just remember not to drink your tea too hot and sip it rather than downing it fast.
Much of the time, viruses or bad bacteria cause stomach flu . Do you know what’s great for both? Probiotics! When it comes to how to get rid of the stomach flu, I definitely recommend increasing your intake of probiotic-rich foods and probiotic supplements. A great probiotic-rich food that can also help with hydration is coconut kefir, which offers both electrolytes for hydration and good bacteria to replenish the gut after all that havoc that’s been going on. Research has shown that probiotics can help diarrhea to stop approximately one day sooner. (26)
Complications and Precautions
How to get rid of the stomach flu definitely involves patience, rest and hydration. When you vomit and have diarrhea, you lose a lot of fluids from your body. The most concerning possible complication when it comes to a case of stomach flu is dehydration. This complication of viral gastroenteritis can usually be avoided if you’re able to drink enough liquids to make up for the fluids you lost from diarrhea and vomiting. Infants, older individuals and anyone with a compromised immune system are more at-risk for severe dehydration due to stomach flu. It is possible for dehydration to lead to death, but this is rare. However, people are sometimes hospitalized as a result of the stomach flu so they can receive intravenous therapy for fluid replacement to correct dehydration. (27)
Signs of dehydration to be on the lookout for include: (28)
- Sunken eyes
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Being more thirsty
- Lack of normal elasticity of the skin
- Reduced urination or inability to urinate
- Decreased tear production in the eyes
If you have the stomach flu and also have any of the following symptoms, it’s recommended that you contact your doctor right away:
- Blood in your stool or vomit
- Fever of 102.2 degrees F or higher in an older child or adult
- Fever of 100.4 degrees F or higher in an infant
- Swollen tummy or pain in the lower-right part of the belly
- Vomiting that lasts longer than 48 hours
Seek medical emergency care if you cannot keep fluids down and you are dehydrated due to vomiting, diarrhea and/or fever. (29)
To avoid catching the stomach flu in the first place, it’s important to wash your hands often with soap and water, especially if you’re around someone you know is infected with the stomach flu. If you do end up with a case of the stomach flu, I know how miserable it can be. But often the misery doesn’t last for more than a day or maybe two.
It’s absolutely crucial to not get dehydrated when you have the stomach flu because then you’ll only feel worse or even need medical attention. So make sure to sip water, bone broth, coconut water and other hydrating clear liquids in small amounts frequently. It’s often hard to eat when you feel so yucky. But when you are ready, you can ease yourself back into eating healthy solid foods that are gentle on your stomach.