Slideshows Images Quizzes
font size

Stomach Flu (Gastroenteritis )

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Stomach flu (gastroenteritis) definition and facts

  • The stomach flu (gastroenteritis) is a nonspecific term for various inflammatory problems in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
  • Gastroenteritis may be of short duration (acute viral) or for many months (chronic gastroenteritis, such as that caused by food allergies).
  • Signs and symptoms of stomach flu depend on the cause.
  • The most frequent signs and symptoms of viral stomach flu include
  • Signs and symptoms of bacterial stomach flu include
  • Food allergies may produce eosinophilic gastroenteritis, a sign of which is increased eosinophils (a type of white blood cell) seen in the blood.
  • Children with the stomach flu or gastroenteritis have similar symptoms to adults, but also may have symptoms such as refusing to drink or being very thirsty.
  • The main way contagious causes of the stomach flu are spread is person to person via the fecal-oral route. Individuals at most risk of catching the stomach flu are those in close association with an infant, child, or an adult that has a viral or bacterial cause of stomach flu .
  • Contagious gastroenteritis is spread or transmitted usually by the fecal – oral route or by eating or drinking contaminated foods.
  • Non-contagious causes of gastroenteritis include food allergies, parasites, drugs, toxins, or the side effects of medications.
  • The most common causes of gastroenteritis are infectious, mainly viral (for example, Norovirus, Rotavirus and many others). The large majority of causes gastroenteritis disease (mainly viral and bacterial) are contagious.
  • Bacterial causes of gastroenteritis include Staphylococcus, Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli, and others.
  • Stomach flu is diagnosed in most cases without specific tests, however, tests can help define the underlying cause.
  • Home remedies may reduce symptoms of stomach flu, including diet changes.
  • Most people with viral or mild bacterial gastroenteritis require no treatment. Some individuals may require symptom reduction with medications but more serious bacterial infections may require antibiotic therapy.
  • Some doctors recommend the "BRAT" (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) diet to people recovering from stomach flu.
  • Notify medical personnel if you have the stomach flu for more than five days, or if dehydration, bloodied diarrhea, constant abdominal pain, or high fever develops.
  • The major complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration.
  • Stomach flu often can be prevented by hand washing, not eating undercooked food or drinking contaminated water, and avoiding direct contact with individuals with the disease. Some specific types of gastroenteritis can be reduced or prevented by vaccine (for example, vaccine against cholera – causing bacteria).

What is the stomach flu (gastroenteritis)?

Gastroenteritis is a nonspecific term for various inflammatory problems in the gastrointestinal tract with the most common symptoms and signs being diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pains. Gastroenteritis is often referred to as the "stomach flu," however, it is not related to the influenza virus.

In the U.S., less than 2% of the estimated 100 million people with stomach flu symptoms per year ever require hospitalization, but in developing countries it is a leading cause of death, mainly due to dehydration.

Are the stomach flu (gastroenteritis) and food poisoning the same condition?

Although the stomach flu and food poisoning share some common symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, stomach cramps, muscle aches, for example, they are not exactly the same condition.

  • Stomach flu or gastroenteritis means any nonspecific inflammatory problem in the gastrointestinal tract; some doctors consider the stomach flu to be more narrowly defined as a viral infection that attacks the digestive system.
  • Food poisoning specifically is caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or fluid that contains bacteria, viruses, parasites and/or their toxins they produce.

Consequently, there is some crossover between the two terms.

In addition:

  • Food poisoning usually is found in small outbreaks that occur among individuals that have ingested the same foods or drink, and symptoms occur rapidly within hours; whereas the stomach flu has a more gradual onset of symptoms and usually lasts longer than food poisoning.
  • Stomach flu is highly contagious and can be spread quickly to other individuals; whereas food poisoning usually requires ingesting the poison and does not easily spread to other individuals.

Are the stomach flu (gastroenteritis) and the flu (influenza) the same infection?

Although both the stomach flu and the flu (influenza) may be caused by viruses, the viral genus and species are different for each entity.

  • The viruses that cause the majority of stomach flu (gastroenteritis) are Norovirus spp; whereas the viruses that cause influenza are mainly Influenza A and B viral spp and subtypes.
  • Stomach flu results mainly in problems with the gastrointestinal tract while influenza (flu) involves the respiratory tract. These two problems are not the same thing.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/21/2016


GI Disorders

Get the latest treatment options.

Use Pill Finder Find it Now See Interactions

Pill Identifier on RxList

  • quick, easy,
    pill identification

Find a Local Pharmacy

  • including 24 hour, pharmacies

Interaction Checker

  • Check potential drug interactions
Search the Medical Dictionary for Health Definitions & Medical Abbreviations

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors