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. Stomach flu (gastroenteritis) is a general term used for various inflammatory problems in the digestive tract, some of which 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,
- high fevers,
- diarrhea the last for 3 days,
- blurry vision,
- renal problems,
- numbness tingling or burning sensation to the extremities,
- seizures, and
Signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis are less severe than those for food poisoning and include
- low-grade fevers,
- nausea without vomiting,
- mild to moderate diarrhea, and
- crampy abdominal bloating.
However, more serious symptoms and signs can occur such as blood in vomitus or stools, vomiting more than 48 hours, fever high than 101 F, 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 U.S. 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.
How Do the Treatments Differ for Food Poisoning and Gastroenteritis?
Treatments for food poisoning and gastroenteritis have almost the same treatments. In general, the treatments for both include the following:
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Some fluids should contain electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium).
- Use antibiotics or antiparasitic drugs (if cause is viral, do not treat with antibiotics) appropriately.
- If symptoms are severe, IV fluids and possible IV drugs in a hospital may be necessary.
The main difference is that food poisoning can have toxic ingestions that when stopped may resolve quickly where gastroenteritis may take days to months to resolve. However, some patients may not have the predicted resolutions, so an accurate diagnosis of the cause of symptoms and is important for treatment.
Pancreatitis : Test Your Medical IQ QuizQuestion
Pancreatitis is inflammation of an organ in the abdomen called the pancreas.See Answer
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Dehydration in ChildrenDehydration in children can result from not drinking enough liquids, vomiting, diarrhea, or combination of these conditions. Causes of dehydration in children include viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections, diabetes, and increased sweating, and others. Symptoms include sunken eyes, decrease in urination, no tears when crying, dry mouth, lethargy, and irritability. Treatment at home includes proper fluid replacement. Some cases of dehydration are so severe they may require hospitalization.
DiarrheaDiarrhea can be caused by bacterial or viral infections, parasites, intestinal diseases or conditions, reactions to medications, and food intolerance or allergies. Symptoms of diarrhea include watery stools, abdominal cramping, fever, and dehydration. Most cases of diarrhea can be treated at home. In some cases (in the elderly, small children, or those with severe or chronic medical conditions) may need to be hospitalized due to dehydration.
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Food PoisoningFood poisoning is caused by viruses, bacteria, toxins, parasites, or chemicals that have contaminated food or drinking water. Symptoms of food poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever, abdominal cramping, dehydration, rectal bleeding, and bloating. Food poisoning usually can be cared for at home. In some instances (severe dehydration) a person may be hospitalized for treatment.
Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu) Symptoms, Transmission, Contagious, and CureGastroenteritis (stomach flu) is most commonly caused by viruses and bacteria like Norovirus, rotavirus, adenovirus, parvovirus, and Astrovirus. Bacteria causing gastroenteritis include Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, salmonella, shigella, Campylobacter, and C. difficile. Other causes may be due to chemical toxins. The stomach flu is contagious because it caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. You get the stomach flu from contaminated food and drinks from poor hygiene (not washing your hands after using the toilet). Common symptoms of the stomach flu are; mild to moderate diarrhea, abdominal cramping, abdominal bloating,and low grade fever. Home remedies to treat the stomach flu include rest and hydration to avoid dehydration. Over-the-counter or prescription medicine may be necessary to treat the signs and symptoms of the stomach flu (gastroenteritis). The stomach flu can be prevented by using proper hygiene when using the bathroom.
How Long Does It Take to Know If You Have Salmonella?Symptoms of Salmonella usually appear within six hours to six days after eating food (or touching an animal) contaminated with the bacteria and include. Nausea, vomiting, fever and diarrhea are all hallmark symptoms.
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What Happens If You Get Listeria?Listeria (listeriosis) is a potentially serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Symptoms include nausea and vomiting, among others. It is usually not serious in otherwise healthy people.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.