A stomach bug from being cold?
July 19, 2016 5:24 PM   Subscribe

Can being cold (as in the opposite of hot) cause stomach flu symptoms, as Eastern folklore claims? If not, why am I suddenly suffering from it?

Recently I've started experiencing alarming stomach flu symptoms (cramping, multiple rounds of diarrhea) with no apparent common trigger except having felt slightly chilled in the previous 12 hours. No other signs or symptoms of being sick, just uncontrollable bowel movements.

Traditional Chinese medicine claims that getting too cold will trigger digestive problems. This pattern of symptoms has happened to my mother for years, but I've always pooh-poohed the relationship to temperature--until the last few weeks when I started having similar symptoms. Is there a reasonable (preferably scientific) medical explanation for my sudden sensitivity? The only thing I can think of is generic IBS. My mother saw a GI specialist and had an endoscopy that gave no answers, but I'm happy to follow up with my doctor if that's the best course of action.
posted by serelliya to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, that's utterly nonsense.

Yes, talk to your real doctor.
posted by so fucking future at 5:27 PM on July 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Eh, I think more likely your body was spiking a bit of a temp and you felt chills as a result.
posted by pintapicasso at 5:27 PM on July 19, 2016 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Microorganisms are more temperature sensitive than large animals. They have done studies where they altered the body temperature of an animal by a few degrees, giving it the normal temperature of another species, and this allowed them to infect it with a disease typical of the other species that this species did not normally get. I am terrible at googling this sort of thing, but I did find this study.

Further, hot and cold treatments were historically used to try to kill infection, before we had antibiotics. This was why people were sent to "the baths" -- not to bathe per se, but to soak in hot springs.

So this is not necessarily crazy talk per se. But a bunch of internet strangers cannot tell you why you are sick. Talk to your doctor is the best answer here.
posted by Michele in California at 5:48 PM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

No, getting chilly does not give you stomach flu symptoms. If this was even remotely true, the entire northern US and Canada would have the stomach flu for 3-6 months out of the year.

The symptoms you're describing can be caused by eating bad food, eating too-rich food, contracting a virus, bacterial illness, IBS, or many, many other things.
posted by erst at 6:19 PM on July 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've definitely had this when I've eaten a big meal *while* chilled (caught in a thunderstorm and thoroughly soaked, poor clothing choices with significant temp change, etc). Not just feeling cold, but the kind of feeling where it takes an hour or two to renormalize. I've attributed it to my body jettisoning less-critical tasks while getting back to a good temperature equilibrium. I'd never heard of it being a thing; I just deal with it by eating gently or not at all until I warm up.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:59 PM on July 19, 2016

I have a relatively mild, but chronic GI condition. When it really flares up, I get chills before and during. It isn't climate related, but more of a moment where I realize, oh, yes, I'm getting the chills and am about to be quite ill. This is a symptom I would talk to your doctor or other health-related professional about. For me, it has meant some dietary changes that have been quite challenging. For you, it might be something easier. The good thing is to know what your triggers are and figure out a way to manage them.
posted by missmerrymack at 7:00 PM on July 19, 2016

The real flu does this, too. It's not flu season, but it's still around.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 7:28 PM on July 19, 2016

Best answer: It's the other way around. The first visible symptom of the battle your immune system was fighting was your temperature dropping. That was probably because it was using so many resources your body allowed your metabolism to slow down. It might also have been your body signalling that you ought to crawl into a warm bed and sleep, as a temperature drop is one of the things that happens as you transition into sleep. But at that point you didn't know you were sick yet.

The diarrhea now might be the result of your immune system flushing your system, with the battle essentially won and the effluvia you are producing essentially diluted enough not to be very infectious, or the result of the battle lost and the the nasty stomach flu bug heading with a huge new army looking for some new territory to infect.

Just keep looking after yourself, washing your hands relentlessly, and watch out for another temperature drop as you might have to go through a few cycles of this if the gut bug is a persistent one.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:31 PM on July 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'd guess you have cause and effect reversed. You have a slight bug, so start to feel chilled. It's because you are already sick, not the cause of it.

Of course, stress on the body can lower the immune system, and make us more susceptible to illness, but if you are feeling cold with no obvious external cause (e.g. Being outside in extreme weather or something) then it is probably because your immune system is already fighting some bacteria/virus.
posted by catatethebird at 8:10 PM on July 19, 2016

So, this is bunk. It has to be bunk. I'm a scientist and it makes no freaking sense.

BUT. My husband comes from a culture which holds the belief that cold stomach -> digestive disaster. His mother subscribes to it more intensely - she won't consume cold drinks, our children always wear undershirts, she hikes their pants up to their ears when she's around, and we are the proud owners of an infant/toddler sized stomach warmer. (It's a stretchy tube of fabric that... Keeps their stomach extra warm.). My husband is a little less intense about it - he drinks iced beverages, etc.

But I swear to the gods I have seen the man sent sprinting to the bathroom with sudden diarrhea brought on by going from a very hot outdoors to a very air conditioned room while wearing a thin shirt. He always carries an extra shirt with him to put on when he goes from somewhere hot to somewhere cold. I have no idea if it's psychosomatic or if his digestive system is really that sensitive, but the diarrhea is real and non viral. He has no other digestion problems. Going out on a cold day doesn't have the same effect - but one's stomach tends to be bundled up then.

Whenever our kid has random diarrhea (not from a virus - we know what THAT looks like), dad's instinct is to put a warm hand on child's belly, ask if their stomach is cold, and wrap a blanket around their midsection.

In summary, it beats the hell out of me and I came in here hoping to finally get an explanation. I'm disappointed that thus far there is only pooh-poohing. (sorry....)
posted by telepanda at 8:45 PM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sometimes your blood pools around your internal organs, and then you might feel cold. It is a feature of an autonomous response to a change in your system. So you picked up a bug, or you ate something just off enough, you had a chance to have chills before you got sick. You can have a fever and chills accompany infection, even a gut bug. If you typically have an iron stomach, it can go on a while.
posted by Oyéah at 8:55 PM on July 19, 2016

I've had this before; sleeping with my stomach uncovered used to give me horrible stomachaches in the morning, reliably so.

(Unless the commenter is a scientist/doctor/researcher specializing in GI, calling claims 'bunk' is a kind of reverse pseudoscience - we don't know that it's not science, but may think that we do know that it's not science.)
posted by suedehead at 9:57 PM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Being perpetually cold does weaken the immune system. That's why more old people die in winter, they succumb to more bugs. The NHS, to save money probably, has a drive every year to remind older people to keep warm and how to do so if they can't afford to keep the heating on. It doesn't cause an illness, but it makes you more susceptible.

I would be suspicious from your description that you actually have a mild fever the preceding 12 hours (which makes you FEEL cold/chilled) from whatever your body is fighting and then the stomach problem. Have you taken your temperature during your "feeling chilled" period? And can you predict the GI symptoms from the chilled feeling (like, do you think "Oh i'm cold, i bet i'm on the loo all day tomorrow!" or do you think, from the loo "now i think about it i WAS a bit cold yesterday!")?

Anyway, all bowel habit changes should be reported to a doctor, so do that next and see where you get to. FWIW i have a thyroid condition that can lead to both feeling hot/cold AND a change in bowel habits, so ask for that to be checked. It's treatable.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 1:40 AM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

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