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Managing Symptoms of the Stomach Flu, Causes, Treatment

Updated on May 22, 2015
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Trained in dentistry, Sree is currently studying lab sciences. She enjoys researching various health topics and writing about her findings.

Stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis is a very common ailment. It is an infection that affects the intestine due to various types of viruses. These viruses can cause immense damage to the intestinal lining that could lead to one of the symptoms of the stomach flu which is diarrhea or watery stool. Because of the damage caused, fluids seep out from the cells to the intestine. Stomach flu causes tons of diarrheal cases annually that affect people’s activities of daily living.

Four virus types that cause stomach flu

  • Rotavirus – This is the leading cause of stomach flu among babies three to fifteen months old. It is also the major cause for diarrhea among kids under five years old. Symptoms affected by this virus may manifest one to two days following exposure. It usually causes diarrhea and vomiting for three to eight long days. This may be accompanied by fever and pain on the abdomen. Adults who are near kids with infection are also at risk. However, the symptoms they experience are less severe.
  • Calciviruses – This group has four kinds. The noroviruses are the most prevalent of the four that infect most people.
  • Noroviruses – these viruses cause the outbreak of stomach flu. Symptoms of those infected include vomiting, diarrhea, malaise, headache, and occasionally body pains. Symptoms of the stomach flu may occur one to three days after getting exposed.
  • Adenoviruses – These infect children under two years old. This group of viruses has 49 types. One type causes infection of the digestive tract which results to vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms may manifest within a week of getting exposed.
  • Astrovirus – This virus commonly cause infection to babies, young kids, and the elderly. It usually infects during the colder months. It causes vomiting and diarrhea after one to three days of getting exposed.

Other Symptoms of Stomach Flu

Apart from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, mild fever is also observed among infected individuals. Diarrhea is usually mild to moderate or two to four times in a day for adolescents and adults. For infants, this means the watery stool leaks through the diaper. A lot of infected people also report painful tummy bloating.

Managing Symptoms of the Stomach Flu
Managing Symptoms of the Stomach Flu | Source
symptoms of the stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis
symptoms of the stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis | Source

More severe symptoms

Infected person who continue to vomit with diarrhea and cannot take oral fluid to rehydrate must be taken to a healthcare facility for medical attention. Monitor for symptoms that require immediate medical intervention such as:

  • Swelling of the abdomen or pain at the right lower quadrant of the abdomen
  • Bloody vomit or bloody stool
  • More than two days of continues vomiting
  • Fever with temperature of 101°F or higher
  • Bloody vomitus or bloody stool
  • Dehydration as evidenced by little or no urine output or dark yellow color of urine, severe weakness or lethargy, dry mouth, extreme thirst, lightheadedness, and inability to produce tears or decreased amount of tears. Combined vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration.
  • Fatigue or sleepiness

Evaluation may be accomplished faster with younger patients. More often than not, the most severe symptoms of stomach flu are alleviated after one to two days. Majority of the diarrhea and vomiting episodes is reduced within 24 to 48 hours. All symptoms are more or less gone within three to five days. This depends on the gravity of the illness and what caused the illness.

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Majority of stomach flu incidences improve after a few days even without treatment. Doctors do not prescribe antibiotics since these medications are ineffective against viruses. The ultimate goal of treatment is to alleviate the symptoms. To avoid the patient getting dehydrated immediate medical attention is required through intravenous therapy.

In order for the body to operate properly, it needs to maintain the right levels of body fluids along with vital minerals and electrolytes. When the body loses fluids, it becomes dehydrated. This is usually caused by vomiting, diarrhea, diuresis, diaphoresis, or by not consuming adequate amounts of fluids because of nausea, dysphagia, or appetite loss. If severe symptoms of dehydration are observed, immediate medical consultation and intervention is necessary. Taking fluids orally can manage mild dehydration. But if the case is severe, it may necessitate I.V. fluids. Patient has to remain in the hospital for further observation, evaluation, and monitoring. If severe dehydration is left untreated, this could cause death.

Young kids and infants have body sizes that are a lot smaller and are more at risk from being dehydrated due to vomiting and diarrhea. Oral rehydration solutions can help in replacing fluids and electrolytes that have been lost. Older individuals are similarly at risk because dehydration can affect their blood pressure.

symptoms of the stomach flu is diarrhea or watery stool
symptoms of the stomach flu is diarrhea or watery stool | Source

Alleviation of symptoms of the stomach flu

  • Refrain from eating for a few hours to help the digestive tract normalize.
  • Consume liquids in small amounts
  • Vomiting may be alleviated by eating small bits of ice
  • Allow the G.I. tract to rest and promote healing by limiting one’s food intake
  • Fruits containing pectin calm the tummy and stop diarrhea.
  • Slowly reintroduce food, beginning with plain, digestible food, such as toast, soup, bananas, and rice.
  • Veer away from dairy, alcohol, or caffeinated beverages until the body has already recovered.
  • Get some rest and sufficient hours of sleep.

Natural treatments

  • Take decaffeinated chamomile tea, ginger tea, peppermint tea, and black tea. These beverages are great in managing nausea and vomiting.
  • Take mustard plant extract made by soaking herbs in liquid to alleviate nausea and vomiting. It can also help in circulation and is anti-microbes. Some herbal tinctures lessen swelling and promote the growth of tissues.
  • Probiotic supplements help increase the good bacteria in the intestines. This makes the digestive system stronger and lessens the possibility of getting infected again.

Antibiotics may not be beneficial for managing stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis. These medications can only cause damage to both good and bad bacteria in the bowel. What must be done is to replace the normal flora in this area of the body to prevent from getting infected again.


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