Symptoms and Signs of Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Bug: Comparison of Differences

Doctor's Notes on Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Bug: Comparison of Differences

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or water; the contaminants can be viruses, bacteria, toxins, parasites or chemicals. The stomach flu (gastroenteritis) is a general term used for various inflammatory problems in the digestive tract, some of which can include food poisoning causes. The most common food poisoning symptoms and signs are abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. More severe food poisoning symptoms may include blood in the stool or vomit, dehydration, high fevers, diarrhea the last for three days, headaches, weakness, blurry vision, bloating, the problems, renal problems and numbness tingling or burning sensation to the extremities, seizures and death. Signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis include low-grade fevers, nausea without vomiting, mild to moderate diarrhea, crampy abdominal bloating, most of which are less severe than those for food poisoning. However, more serious symptoms can occur such as blood in vomitus or stools, vomiting more than 48 hours, fever high than 101F, swollen abdomen with increasingly severe abdominal pain and dehydration. Most causes of food poisoning last from a few hours to a few days while gastroenteritis last from 1 to 2 days to months.

Viruses are the most frequent cause of food poisoning in the US; the next highest causes are bacteria while other causes include chemicals, parasites and toxins. Viruses cause about 70% of gastroenteritis problems and bacterial infections cause most of the rest.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/20/2019


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.