In spite of the fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with influenza (the flu), the stomach flu is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract which involves the stomach and the small intestines.
Also commonly referred to as gastroenteritis, gastro, gastric flu and tummy bug; stomach flu is caused by an infection precipitated by a variety of viruses (norovirus which is most common, rotavirus, adenovirus, astrovirus and others) by bacteria (Salmonella, Shigella, Staphylococcus, Campylobacter jejuni, Clostridium, Escherichia coli, Yersinia and so on), by parasites or by unfavorable reactions to toxins, pollutants, drugs (prescribed or recreational), alcohol or something ingested (spoiled or improperly prepared foods, contaminated water, etc.)
Depending on it cause, the symptoms of stomach flu can vary considerably but they always include acute diarrhea which can be severe enough to be life-threatening.
The symptoms of stomach flu usually last between one and six days but they can persist even longer while the most commonly reported among them are: diarrhea of very frequent and extremely watery bowl movements which are also accompanied by pain, cramping and spasms of the stomach; nausea and vomiting (usually of bile); loss of appetite; traces of blood in the stool; blackouts, fainting spells with general weakness and lethargy; low grade fever and dehydration. The most severe cases of stomach flu have even been known to culminate with shock, coma or death.
As a matter of fact, stomach flu is the leading cause of death among infants and young children around the world.
Because dehydration is the most critical of all the symptoms, the number one priority when treating stomach flu is to replace the fluids and the electrolytes that have been lost during the process of moving frequent bowls due to the diarrhea and/or due to the vomiting.
In the mildest of cases, stomach flu patients are simply asked to increase their intake of fluids — water, tea and soups are most recommended.
In the more serious cases of stomach flu, hydration or rehydration is usually first attempted by a method called oral rehydration therapy (ORT) and it involves having the patient drink a solution consisting of salts and sugars. In the most severe cases of diarrhea and dehydration, and in cases where ingesting the fluids by mouth only leads to more nausea and vomiting, rehydrated is achieved intravenously.
Foods and liquids that have high contents of simple sugars (desserts, soft drinks, juices, etc.) may worsen diarrhea and should, therefore, be eliminated when dealing with stomach flu.
Contrary of many popular beliefs, fatty foods may actually be very helpful in battling diarrhea. Conversely, the BRATT diet which had been favored for decades and makes claim that patients of the stomach flu must eat nothing but bananas, rice, applesauce, toast and tea has now been found lacking in nutrients. The BRATT diet, therefore, is no longer recommended.
Additional treatments for stomach flu and its diarrhea are:
- (a) Fermented dairy products which include yogurts (plain and unsweetened) and buttermilk.
- (b) Zinc supplements are especially recommended for young children.
- (c) Antidiarrheal agents calm the intestines and, therefore, also relieve diarrhea.
- (d) Where stomach flu is caused by bacteria, antibiotics may be prescribed.
- (e) Antiemetic drugs may help stop or decrease vomiting which also contributes to dehydration.