Help! Is it Food Poisoning or the Stomach Flu?

Date Created: 09/04/2015
By Nicholas Dodaro, M.D., ABEM, FACEP

visit GuideWell Emergency Doctor if you have food poisoning

If you are dealing with an unpleasant stomach issue, you may be wondering “Am I sick?” or “Was it something I ate?”  The answer may be difficult to determine, as the symptoms for both food poisoning and the stomach flu are similar. However, there are a few clues that may help you figure out what it is that’s bugging you.


In most cases, food poisoning symptoms begin within one to four hours of eating contaminated food. However, in some rare cases, a food parasite or staph infection can begin to grow but you may not see signs for up to 10 days. If your symptoms do not subside after a day or two, it is a good idea to call the doctor. Certain food borne illnesses such as Norovirus, e coli, salmonella and listeria can be serious or even fatal, particularly in small children. The most common signs of food poisoning are:

•    Severe gastrointestinal cramping and pain
•    Severe nausea and diarrhea
•    Body aches
•    Fever

These symptoms may be the same as your basic virus; however, the stomach virus will usually not be as severe and may also be accompanied with other flu-like symptoms such as chest congestion, running nose and cough.

Treatment for Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Flu

The treatment for either condition is basically the same- rest and let it run its course. Chances are you will begin to feel better within 24-48 hours. If you don’t feel better or if you continue to have vomiting and diarrhea, get to the doctor right away. The biggest concern here isn’t whether or not you have food poisoning versus the stomach flu - it is dehydration. Hydration for either one of these ailments is a must as your body is losing water and electrolytes.  Sipping on water or products with electrolytes in them can help, but if you decide to consume products like Gatorade, it’s recommended that you water them down, as the sugar and sodium can sometimes lead you to further dehydration.

If you experience any of the following, seek medical help immediately:

•    Extreme fatigue
•    Persistent, high fever
•    Inability to urinate
•    Dry mouth
•    Increased dizziness or  blurred vision


The best way to prevent any illness is to wash your hands before eating or handling food.  Unfortunately, not all food handlers follow this rule and you can’t see the bacteria growth (in most cases) on your food with the naked eye. Be extra cautious, particularly when traveling, and always make sure your food is cooked thoroughly. If it is supposed to be hot, make sure it is hot! If it’s supposed to be cold, make sure it is cold! Overall, a good rule of thumb is if it looks funny, smells funny or tastes funny, DON’T EAT IT!

GuideWell Emergency Doctors can help you if you’re suffering from the stomach flu or food poisoning. We offer a wide range of services to meet your unscheduled medical needs. With quality pediatric and adult care, our conveniently located centers provide you high-quality medical assistance for your illness or injury.

Nicholas Dodaro, M.D., ABEM, FACEP

Dr. Dodaro is board certified with the American Board of Emergency Medicine and is a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians. He is a graduate of Tulane University Medical School in New Orleans, Louisiana. His residency training included an internship at Georgetown University in Internal Medicine followed by Emergency Medicine at the University of Florida HSC Jacksonville, Florida. Dr. Dodaro still enjoys seeing patients in all Crucial Care facilities and serves in a variety of leadership and management roles throughout the organization. He has held privileges in a variety of settings, such as private hospitals, free standing Emergency Departments, and Academic Medical Centers. He is actively involved in the growth and development of the Crucial Care Management Services based in Jacksonville. Dr. Dodaro enjoys spending time with his wife and three children.

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