Is this food poisoning, stomach flu, or something else?
July 11, 2014 7:35 AM   Subscribe

None Of You Is My Doctor, but before I spend money and time at Urgent Care, I'd like to ask those of you who have experienced this kind of thing if what I am going through right now is something you just have to wait out, or if I need to go see someone. (Warning: discussion of vomiting and other bodily functions inside.)

I can't remember the last time I vomited, so this is all very upsetting to me--I don't even know where to start looking for answers except here.

Yesterday, my stomach didn't feel so great. I was fine in the morning, when I had my usual breakfast of a breakfast bar and a cup of coffee. Around 10:30, I started to get a "sour stomach," just low-level unpleasant feeling in my gut. I got some Pepto Bismol, and that seemed to be helping a bit. I didn't eat anything else (food wasn't appealing). Bowel movements a little loose, but nothing like diarrhea or anything.

Just after 5pm, I threw up what I guess was my coffee and breakfast bar (there wasn't really much solid in the vomit). I felt a lot better, and figured whatever it was just had to be expelled and that was it. I went home - and threw up again. Once again, I felt 100% after that, but within about 30 minutes I got a fever, chills, and all of my joints started to ache. I went to sleep. Two hours later, my fever and chills were gone! ...but I vomited again. At this point, I can't imagine what the hell there was to throw up -- I had only had the breakfast bar and one cup of coffee! (The vomit was definitely, uh, brown liquid, and coffee-flavored.)

Same story - feel much better for about 10-15 minutes, then achy again. But less achy than before, and as I said the chills were gone and the fever was gone. Like the fastest illness on record.

This morning I woke up and, yes, vomited - but there really wasn't much content to it, and it didn't last nearly as long as the previous bouts. Most of the aches have gone away, and I haven't been nauseated since about four hours ago.

Is this food poisoning? Stomach flu? Something else? I'm really, really hungry now, but I'm terrified of giving my body any more, uh, ammo. The last bout was really just liquid that burned my throat. I've been sipping water and that's about it. I feel much better just in general and have maintained that "feeling better" for about five hours, rather than the usual 20 minutes.

Do I go to a doctor? Do I wait and see what today is like? Should I eat something? If so, what do you suggest?
posted by tzikeh to Health & Fitness (22 answers total)
I would wait and see what today brings -- it sounds like it could just be a viral tummy bug. Stay hydrated, try some plain crackers or toast.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:38 AM on July 11, 2014

Best answer: If I were you, and I'm not, I would eat some plain oatmeal or toast, have a bottle of Gatorade and wait it out for another 24 hours.
posted by 724A at 7:40 AM on July 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

See what happens today. It could be a Norovirus. I've had that, and it was 24 hours of not being able to keep anything down, and a week of my stomach just aching while it fixed itself.

Drink a lot of fluids, rest, and see how you feel tomorrow. (and my sympathies.)
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:41 AM on July 11, 2014

Either stomach virus/food poisoning, the chills gives it away.

Start with BRATs, Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast. Oatmeal is okay too. Keep hydrated, drink clear liquids, I like ginger ale, it helps with the queasy. Don't drink apple juice or citrus juices, they're tough on a tender tummy.

Just keep sipping liquids. Dehydration just makes you feel terrible.

So rest up, nibble in small amounts, and watch mindless crap on TV. You may feel week but should be back up to snuff on Monday.

Take Care!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:43 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I second unspecified viral thing. Try eating something bland that won't be super disgusting if it comes back up. Crackers, toast, cheerios, oatmeal, etc. Also, try to get some electrolytes in you by drinking gatorade or something similar. I think if you're still vomiting after another 24 hours, then it's time to visit the urgent care.
posted by yasaman at 7:44 AM on July 11, 2014

Best answer: Sounds like typical gastroenteritis (there's not really any such thing as "stomach 'flu", by the way). Whether it's bacterial or viral isn't generally worth investigation.

Unless it persists for more than a couple of days, I wouldn't worry - chances are you'll be back to normal tomorrow. Just make sure you wash your hands and keep your bathroom clean, so that friends/family/visitors don't catch it from you.

If you don't want food, don't make yourself eat. But keep hydrated.
posted by pipeski at 7:46 AM on July 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If it was noro you would have no doubt that it was noro, because you would be crying on the toilet while both ends literally erupted uncontrollably in body-racking shuddering waves.

It sounds like a mild stomach bug, esp. with the chills and fever. Unless there is serious stomach pain I'm not sure I would worry about food poisoning either, although it's just my own personal experience I'm working with here - I've never had food poisoning that was not accompanied by agonizing stabby pains.

STOP DRINKING COFFEE. No matter what's going on, coffee will only make it worse.

Perversely it can feel better to have a little something in your stomach if you're going to throw up. Nothing carbonated, because it will just fizz up your nose, and nothing acidic/citrusy because it will feel like knives in your throat.

Definitely stay home from work though.
posted by elizardbits at 7:47 AM on July 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

But yes, if you reach a point where you can't even hold down water or chewed ice cubes, get to the ER because once dehydration sets in you may not be strong enough to make it in on your own, or may also reach the point of madness where you don't even realize how sick you are.
posted by elizardbits at 7:48 AM on July 11, 2014

Pedialyte popsicles. They'll put enough electrolytes into you to feel better right away, and they are not offensive to throw up. (Drugstore brand is fine, but if you can get to an actual grocery store there's usually a box or two in the freezer already. But they reach slushy in about an hour if you take them out of the box and lay them out in the freezer.)

If you hold a few of those down, you can move on to BRAT.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:48 AM on July 11, 2014

Actual pedialyte is probably just as good. I like the popsicles when I am nauseated and extremely gunshy about taking in too much too fast.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:49 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also vote stomach bug, especially if you're starting to feel better. If you're nervous about reintroducing ammo, do one tiny sip of Gatorade every several minutes. Once you can handle that without barfing, you can do a few swallows at a time. Then you can graduate to things like chicken soup and crackers and applesauce. Rice porridge also makes a good reintroduction to food.

You may well feel crummy for several more days, but the worst part of the illness sounds like it has probably passed.

If you have bad stomach pain and a fever, that needs prompt investigation.
But it sounds like you're probably on the mend.
posted by telepanda at 8:02 AM on July 11, 2014

Sounds like it might be food poisoning. Although, when I've had food poisoning, I feel great after a single vomit session (though I have no appetite for the next day). It could also be a virus or stomach flu.

Stop drinking coffee! Put yourself on the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Apples, and Toast) for a day or so and see what happens. These are very mild foods unlikely to further upset your stomach. My mom used to say Tea instead of Toast for what BRAT stands for, but I think she's wrong -- all but the most mild teas, I think, could potentially upset a stomach.

I find ginger ale (and really, almost anything with a very high ginger content) to be helpful when I'm having stomach issues. Failing that, drink lots of water. When you throw up you lose a lot of fluids that need to be replaced.

If you're still feeling bad after today is over, then by all means go see a doctor. Usually a day or two is enough for run-of-the-mill stomach issues to run their course.
posted by tckma at 8:02 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the info, suggestions, and reassurance. I guess I'm going across the street for some Gatorade, bananas, and rice.
posted by tzikeh at 8:14 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also if any blood starts happening, from either end, then this is also a concern obvsly. Dark globs of period-like (in color and consistency) blood is a bigger concern than streaks/spots of bright red fresh blood.
posted by elizardbits at 8:25 AM on July 11, 2014

errr I would probably pass on the rice unless you plan on cooking it into mush - it's not fun if it comes back up.
posted by brilliantine at 8:29 AM on July 11, 2014

It sounds like norovirus (which is not always as severe as elizardbits says), in which case you should nibble some saltines and suck on ice cubes for another twelve hours or so. It couldn't hurt to get some meclizine (OTC if you're in the US) for the nausea.

And clean everything you've touched with bathroom hands. Clean every surface. With bleach. Hand sanitizer is useless. Don't prepare food for other people for a few days. Seriously. Don't spread it around!
posted by magdalemon at 8:31 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think literally almost everyone I know has had a really severe 24-36 hour stomach bug in the past two months. It's going around.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:32 AM on July 11, 2014

N'thing everything everyone here has said, and I found a good trick for the Gatorade was to dilute it 50/50 with water - it was too sweet / strong for me otherwise.

Hope it passes soon!
posted by sektah at 8:52 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gingerale. Ginger is a mild anti-puking assist, it rehydrates, and it's least bad thing to throw up.
posted by theora55 at 9:47 AM on July 11, 2014

I had to go to the ER several months ago after several days of vomiting and diarrhea. I was literally lying on my bathroom floor, barely able to move. I had norovirus. They put me on a saline IV and gave me anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medication (which worked, but I'm not sure if it works any better than the OTC stuff). If you have someone living with you who can help you through this, and you're really worried about money, I'd tough it out since the ER won't do anything that you can't do yourself (except for the IV). If you have a good relationship with a primary care doc, she or he might give you a prescription for an anti-emetic over the phone. (I forgot what they gave me, but it was ~*magic*~)
posted by desjardins at 9:54 AM on July 11, 2014

I had this too! Hadn't vomited for 15 years; vomited. Might have been bad mango / pineapple, but who knows.

Anyway -- in case you are super sore the next day, don't worry: it goes away. My entire torso hurt to touch, the ground was too hard to walk on, doorknobs were too hard to touch, etc. Frightening! But it went away.

I also felt crappy for about a week and had gastrointestinal delicateness for a while after, but those too will settle.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:21 PM on July 11, 2014

My family came down with exactly this bug two weeks ago. Beware: even after you are fully recovered, you are infectious for up to two weeks.
posted by Specklet at 6:15 PM on July 11, 2014

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