Is it Food Poisoning or a Stomach Virus that’s Ailing You?

Posted by Dino Nguyen, M.D. on Oct 5, 2016 8:13:00 AM

You start to feel queasy; your stomach is cramping, and there might be vomiting or worse. Was it something you ate like that sushi from the truck stop? Or maybe you picked up a stomach bug from your young nephew? Here are ways to tell if what you’re suffering from is food poisoning or a stomach virus. 

Consider the Source

There are a few clues to consider when trying to decipher what’s causing your stomach issues.


A stomach virus is passed on from someone who is infected, which means you can get it by drinking or eating after someone who is ill, or by handling something they have touched. 

Food poisoning, on the other hand, is caused by eating or drinking things contaminated by bacteria, parasites, or infectious organisms. 

Telltale Symptoms 

The symptoms of food poisoning and a stomach virus are somewhat similar: 

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

However, there are some differences. With food poisoning, symptoms usually show up within hours of ingesting the contaminated items. They tend to last a few days at most. On the other hand, stomach virus symptoms generally appear one to two days after exposure to the virus. These generally last almost a week.

Another difference to look for is that a virus may generate fevers that come along with headaches and body aches, whereas these aren’t typically present with food poisoning. 

How to Take Care of It


For cases of food poisoning or stomach viruses, the keys are get back to a normal diet and stay hydrated. A common pitfall is to resort to sports drinks; however, the sugars in these may actually worsen your diarrhea. Stick with water or rehydration solutions like Pedialyte. 

While gradually reintroducing bland foods such as bananas, rice, applesauce, or toast (eg. the BRAT diet) used to be recommended, we now know that getting back to a more normal and balanced diet is better. It will help give you the nutrients you need to recover, and reduce the duration of your symptoms. Of course, don’t go out and eat a large plate of chicken fried steak with extra gravy. The take home point is balanced. 

If symptoms persist longer than expected, or you feel that a little more help is needed, definitely come see your friendly Kelsey-Seybold physician. We’ll help you get back to feeling well.


Nguyen_Dino.pngDr. Dino Nguyen is a Family Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. He’s accepting new patients at Meyerland Plaza Clinic. In his free time, he works with organizations like Hard Hats for Little Heads, which educates elementary school children about helmet safety. He also volunteers as part of the medical staff for the Chevron Houston Marathon, assisting runners who require medical aid.

Topics: food poisoning, stomach virus, stomach flu

Finding a doctor has never been easier!

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all