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How do I know if I’ve got food poisoning or the stomach flu?

They symptoms are similar, but one illness is contagious and the other isn’t.

By Sally Wadyka Oct 7, 2013 10:28PM

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When you start to throw up or have diarrhea, it can be tough to know if it was something you ate or something you caught. Both food poisoning and the stomach flu can present with similar symptoms.

Digitalskillet/Getty Images

“The key to recognizing food poisoning is that the onset of symptoms is related to a meal—often occurring within hours of ingesting the tainted food,” says Davis Liu, MD, a board-certified family doctor and author of The Thrifty Patient - Vital Insider Tips for Saving Money and Staying Healthy. Another good clue is to find out if anyone who ate with you and consumed the same dishes also got sick.

Regardless of the cause, symptoms of both should resolve themselves within a few days. During that time, the most important thing is to stay hydrated and nourished—taking in small amounts of food and liquids as tolerated.

“But if you experience dehydration, dizziness or bloody diarrhea—or if your overall symptoms last more than five days—you should go see your doctor,” says Liu.

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Oct 14, 2013 10:02PM

Was expecting a little more helpful info when I clicked on the link.  

Oct 15, 2013 6:43AM

You can pay attention to your body, without knowing exactly what's making you have nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, but if there is no fever, it's likely food poisoning, or an inflammation of the stomach and gastrointestinal track, often called "stomach flu", or a "stomach bug".  Diagnosis of this is generally called "gastroenteritis", which just means it's inflammation and irritability of the G.I. tract.  So, it can actually be from either cause; viral or bacterial, or from tainted food.  The term is non-specific on cause.

  If it's severe enough you can't hold down clear liquids for over 24 hours, and you're getting weak, not making urine, you might need to seek medical help.  Sooner if pregnant or very debilitated.  And stay away from people if possible, on the off-chance you might develop the fever the following day, and need to be tested for true flu.

  I didn't find the article very thorough or informative.


Oct 14, 2013 3:15PM

If you pay attention to your body's signals you should be able to tell the difference.  Are you starting to feel run down, have problems concentrating, or feel overly warm or chilly when you'd normally feel comfortable?  Is food starting to taste just a bit odd?  You're probably getting the flu. 


If, however, you were perfectly well at 10 pm but at 1:45 am you're yakking up your socks, it's probably food poisoning.  That's what happened to me last Thursday night and Friday morning.  Four days later I'm still at the "no thanks, I'll just have plain toast" stage.

Oct 13, 2013 12:40AM
The person who placed chicken in a container put the lid on with the same hand with which the chicken was handled. I use the other hand or wash my hands before handling the outside of the container.
Oct 14, 2013 11:42PM
Please quit referring to intestinal viral minfections as "stomach flu".  Flu is influenza, a respiratory viral infection for which we get flu shots to prevent.  Gastroenteritis, although flu-like in terms of aches, etc., is a different virus.  People are confused enough about theitr aliments enough as it is without the media adding to it.

The Doc

Oct 14, 2013 10:47PM
Wash what you eat.  I work at a produce stand, and many people ask if the mixed greens have been washed.  Yep, they were at the processing plant, but who knows what they have been in contact with since then!  Many people think meat is the only source of food poisoning-but raw vegetables are also a culprit!
Oct 14, 2013 2:12PM
Two weeks ago I woke up with a sick stomach at 3:30 am.  I took stomach medication, but next thing ya know, I was vomiting like crazy with diarrhea.  No fever.  As soon as it was all over, I felt just fine, so I'm guessing it was food poisoning although I don't know what caused it.
Oct 14, 2013 10:56PM
Food poisoning rarely comes with a fever.
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