Gastroenteritis, commonly called intestinal or stomach flu, is an inflammation of the stomach and/or upper intestines. It makes you feel miserable for a few days, but it usually clears up by itself with no further complications. Here are some tips on how to treat stomach flu.
In about 90 percent of all cases, stomach flu is caused by a virus of some kind. The same virus that gives one family member a cold or upper respiratory infection may cause gastrointestinal problems in another. Occasionally, the illness may be caused by bacteria, such as those responsible for traveler’s diarrhea or food poisonings.
However, since most stomach “bugs” are viruses and not bacteria, the doctor probably won’t recommend an antibiotic – at least not right away. By the time lab tests determined whether the problem was viral or bacterial, you would probably be over the illness already.
The symptoms of stomach flu, regardless of its cause, may include nausea (with or without vomiting), diarrhea and cramping, flatulence (gas), and possibly fever, chills, achiness or weakness. If a large amount of bodily fluids are lost through diarrhea or vomiting, a feeling of dizziness may be present.
The best treatment for stomach flu is to take it easy for a few days, drink plenty of fluids, and eat lightly. Bed rest isn’t essential; let your energy level be the guide.
As for fluids, try to drink some at least a half-hour after every attack of vomiting or diarrhea; the idea is to replace the water your body is losing at a faster pace.
Dairy products or carbonated soda are not recommended, although flat soda is fine; some types of juice that are high in fruit sugar, such as apple juice, may worsen diarrhea.
Various over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to treat stomach flu symptoms. These include antiemetics, to help control nausea and vomiting (Emetrol/Tigan); antidiarrheals, to slow the movement of food through the intestines and ease cramping (Lomotil/Imodium A/D); and antacids, to reduce the inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining (Maalox/Mylanta, etc.) Ask your pharmacist or physician for specific recommendations.
None of these medications are a cure for stomach flu, nor are they intended for long-term use; they just offer temporary relief from uncomfortable symptoms. Most cases of stomach flu go away in a few days, although an occasional symptom may recur for several days afterwards. If symptoms persist longer, call your physician.