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What to Do When a Stomach Bug Strikes

April 14, 2020

Tummy trouble. A stomachache. Feeling sick to your stomach. The stomach flu. Those are lots of different names and phrases, but they all basically talk about the same thing—a stomach bug. What should you do when you’re feeling sick?

There’s no doubt about it. Stomach-related illnesses are never pleasant. Whether you have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or a combination, tummy troubles can leave you feeling weak and out of sorts.

So, what should you do if you think you have a stomach bug, most often the result of viral gastroenteritis or the norovirus? Becky Bruce, family nurse practitioner with West Tennessee Medical Group, has some tips.

Becky Bruce, NP

Determining That You Have a Stomach Bug
The first step toward effectively finding relief from a stomach bug is determining that what you’re experiencing is actually a stomach bug.

What do we mean by that?

Well, the symptoms of food poisoning are very similar to those of a stomach bug, so it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two. Consider these questions if you aren’t sure whether your symptoms are a bug or food poisoning:

  • Have you eaten any foods that are typically associated with food poisoning? These foods include salads, poultry, eggs, seafood and dairy-based products.
  • Are others who consumed the same foods you did also experiencing stomach-related symptoms? This is probably an indication that you have food poisoning.
  • How quickly did your symptoms come on? The symptoms of food poisoning typically begin within a few hours after eating.
  • Are your symptoms lingering for longer than a few days? In most cases, food poisoning goes away more quickly, while a stomach bug may stick around for up to a week or more.

What to Do If You Have a Stomach Bug
A stomach bug may cause a variety of symptoms, mostly related to the stomach. These symptoms can include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, along with a mild fever, chills and muscle aches.

If you believe your symptoms are the result of a stomach bug, there are a few basics that can help alleviate your discomfort and get you back to feeling better as soon as possible. 

Try these tips:

  • Stay hydrated. This is a big one, and it’s very important that you take steps to hydrate yourself if you’re losing vital fluids through vomiting or diarrhea. Water is the best option, but you can also hydrate with broth, electrolyte-replenishing drinks and hot or cold teas. Some teas, including those containing ginger or peppermint, may help alleviate nausea. If keeping liquids down is a struggle, try sucking on an ice pop or chewing on ice chips.
  • Rest. Experiencing dehydration due to a stomach bug can leave you feeling incredibly weak. Taking the time to rest and allow your body to recuperate is important. Cut back on your normal activity—which you probably won’t be able to do as you recoup anyhow—and get the recommended amount of sleep for your age. You may even need extra sleep to help you recover.
  • Stick to liquids for a bit. Even if you feel like eating again, take things slowly. Start with liquids and soft foods, such as broths, soups, rice, applesauce and bananas. These foods are easy for your body to digest, which helps you return to eating normally again.
  • Steer clear of certain foods. This will probably seem logical to anyone who’s ever had a stomach bug, but there are some foods you will want to avoid. Dairy products, including milk, can trigger gas and worsen diarrhea. Foods containing lots of fiber, like vegetables and whole grains, can also worsen diarrhea. You may also want to skip greasy and spicy foods since they irritate the stomach.
  • Keep your distance from others. This won’t help you recover from the stomach bug, but it will help keep other members of your family and friends from getting sick, too. Try to stay in a different room than other people as much as possible. Once you’re over the illness, ensure everything is sanitized, including commonly touched surfaces and your clothing, sheets and towels.


If you’re experiencing stomach bug symptoms that don’t alleviate within a day or two or seem to worsen, seek medical attention. Find a provider here