Food Poisoning Vs. Stomach Flu: What Are The Main Differences?

Many people have trouble telling the difference between food poisoning and stomach flu and struggle to determine which of the medical conditions they’re suffering from. The two disorders manifest so similarly most of the times, that it’s difficult to figure out which is which and how you should approach the treatment.

While the best recommendation is to go get checked by a medical professional, we’ve put together a short guide to help you get a better grasp of the differences between stomach flu and food poisoning and set your mind at ease until your appointment.


Food Poisoning

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning or foodborne illness is any medical condition that results from eating food that has been contaminated by viruses, parasites or pathogenic bacteria, or that contains natural or chemical toxins. The incubation period may range from a few hours to several days, and symptoms differ depending on the cause, but they often include fever, stomach aches, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

In severe cases, you may also experience loss of consciousness, shock, bloody vomit or stools, and excruciating abdominal cramping, while some forms of food poisoning, such as botulism, can even be fatal if not treated properly.


Stomach Flu

Stomach Flu

Stomach flu has nothing to do with influenza – it is actually a colloquial name used for gastroenteritis. It is the inflammation of the stomach and small intestine caused most commonly by viruses, but also by parasites, bacteria or fungi. A big difference between stomach flu and food poisoning is that, unlike the latter, gastroenteritis can also be caused by contact with infected persons or objects they have touched.

Furthermore, viruses causing stomach flu can also be found in the stool and vomit of infected individuals, so people looking after individuals with gastroenteritis should take precautionary measures. As for the symptoms, they are quite similar to foodborne illnesses, and include fever, abdominal pains, diarrhea, vomiting, and a general lack of energy. Stomach flu is often accompanied by headaches and muscle cramping.


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The Differences between Food Poisoning and Stomach Flu

Now, let’s put all factors that tell the two illnesses apart side by side, to have a clear image of the difference between food poisoning and stomach flu.

Food Poisoning

Stomach Flu

  • Caused by viruses, parasites, bacteria or toxins
  • Caused mainly by viruses, and never by toxins
  • Food poisoning, as the name suggests, is caused by ingesting contaminated food
  • You can get stomach flu also by coming into contact with infected individuals
  • Eye swelling, blurry vision, slurred speech and various neurological symptoms may occur in food poisoning, but not in stomach flu patients.
  • Gastroenteritis patients will typically experience headaches and muscle aches, which aren’t common symptomsin food poisoning.
  • Symptoms of foodborne illness can appear in just a few hours after eating
  • Stomach flu usually takes one or more days to develop.
  • Food poisoning usually doesn’t last more than two days
  • Stomach flu symptoms can last for as many as ten days.


Hopefully, you can now tell the difference between food poisoning and stomach flu. If you’re experiencing any symptoms described here, contact your doctor ASAP. Once you feel better, don’t forget to subscribe to get informative articles about medicine and other useful topics straight to your inbox.

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