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is it food poisoning or a stomach bug? know your ache!

food poisoning or a stomach bug

Have you ever been faced with a stronger than normal stomach ache and wondered, is this pain stemming from food poisoning or a stomach bug? Here’s how you can be sure of the cause!

There's a Difference

Stomach pain stemming from food poisoning may have similar side effects as a viral infection or a run-of-the-mill “bug”, however there are stark differences between the two, specifically if you’re trying to identify the culprit of a stomach ache. Food poisoning of course is an illness causes by eating contaminated, undercooked, or unsanitary food such as raw/undercooked chicken, and usually gets better in time without treatment (though some cases do require treatment). A stomach bug or virus is caused by a bacterial or viral infection, which may require treatment or medication.

More on Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is unfortunately a common occurrence. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 (or nearly 48 million) Americans contract some form of food poisoning each year. Of these, 128,000 are hospitalized, and roughly 3,000 of these cases result in death due to a deeper complication. What you may not know however, is certain people are predisposed to contracting food poisoning!

The CDC states that adults older than 65, as well as children below the age of 5, are at higher risk at getting food poisoning and contracting a more serious illness from it. Further, people with immune disorders or certain existing conditions such as diabetes, liver/kidney disease, or cancer are also within this higher risk category. According to everydayhealth.com, the most common types of food poisoning causes stem from:

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Food Poisoning or Stomach Bug? How Can You Tell?

So when it comes to differentiating food poisoning or a stomach bug, there are a few identifiers to watch out for:

  • Difficulty breathing: Typically, stomach bugs or viruses won’t restrict one’s breathing. However, certain food poisoning complications can.
  • Projectile vomiting: While it’s possible to vomit in a non-projectile fashion with food poisoning, this is usually one of the more common identifiers early on. 
  • Dehydration: It’s important to note that dehydration is a symptom of both the stomach flu and food poisoning. However, one will likely become dehydrated faster with food poisoning due to the frequency of bathroom visits.
  • Timing: While the symptoms of both food poisoning and stomach bugs are similar (vomiting, irregular stool, etc.) food poisoning usually onsets much quicker, while a stomach virus can take days to manifest.
  • Fever: Contrary to popular belief, you CAN run fever with food poisoning. Fever is a common symptom of both stomach bugs and food poisoning. 

Treatment for Both Aches

For those suffering with food poisoning, a common fever reducing medication like Tylenol is usually a quick combatant, as is hydration replenishment through liquids like water, Gatorade, or low-sugary beverages. While eating might seem out of the question for a while, taking in small portions of foods like oatmeal, bananas, or bread might help ease the stomach pains. Lastly, avoiding fatty and spicy foods, as well as carbonated beverages will help symptoms go away faster. 

For those suffering with a stomach bug, hydration is also a main component of recovery, as is sucking on ice chips from time to time. While eating small food portions is ideal, letting your stomach settle first is usually a safer and less irritating route. While easing back into eating, try foods like bananas, rice, broth or chicken. Lastly, taking over the counter medications is also a fast-acting relief source with those battling a stomach bug. 

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