The stomach flu, also known as gastroenteritis, is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by a virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, the stomach flu is not caused by an influenza strain. The name "stomach flu" is more indicative of the similar symptoms to an influenza virus and not because it is of the same family of viruses. Noroviruses are the most common cause for the stomach flu. Highly contagious, the stomach flu can last from one to 10 days and cause serious symptoms such as severe diarrhea and dehydration. If symptoms become severe or last too long, medical attention is required.
The stomach flu is commonly diagnosed by the severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Diarrhea typically shows up within the first few days and can last up to 10 days depending on the severity of the infection, according to the Mayo Clinic. In addition to diarrhea, vomiting and nausea are common symptoms that may also linger. Depending on the severity, lingering vomiting and diarrhea can potentially lead to dehydration if the individual isn't consuming enough liquids.
Other symptoms of the stomach flu that could potentially linger are headaches, body aches, abdominal cramps and pain, fatigue, weakness, chills and fevers. Typically, fevers are low-grade and not high enough to warrant emergency care. The body aches typically last only a few days for most children and adults. However, if the pains last for more than two days in children then medical attention is recommended, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Dehydration is a serious risk if stomach flu symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea last longer than a few days and the individual is unable to replace the fluids lost. Individuals are encouraged to drink plenty of fluids to prevent the onset of dehydration. However, infants, children, the elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems are at high risk of developing dehydration, according to the Mayo Clinic. These high-risk individuals are typically unable to replace fluids lost on their own. In extreme cases, dehydration can be fatal if untreated.
When to See a Doctor
For adults, a doctor visit is recommended by the Mayo Clinic if there's blood in the vomit or stool, if they can't keep liquid down for more than 24 hours, or if a fever goes above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. For children, a doctor visit is recommended by the Mayo Clinic if a fever is above 102 degrees Fahrenheit, there is any blood in the stool or vomit, and if the child is extremely irritable or complains of being in a lot of pain. For infants, a doctor visit is recommended by the Mayo Clinic if they haven't had a wet diaper for more than six hours, is unresponsive, has blood in stool or vomit, severe diarrhea or cries without tears.