The Stomach Flu Verses the Other Flu

By , June 4, 2020 5:14 am

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Do you know the difference between the stomach flu and influenza? Many people use the term interchangeably, but the assumption is not correct and failing to understand the difference between the two can lead to serious health based consequences.

The term “stomach flu” is a popular term used in society. However, the term is incorrect when considered as a medical diagnosis. The two diagnoses could not be more different and the two conditions are caused by two separate irritants. The correct term for what is commonly referred to as the stomach flu is gastroenteritis. When directly translated from the Latin based medical term, ‘Gastro’ = stomach, ‘enter’ = relates to the intestines, ‘itis’ – inflammation.

People who are suffering from the condition gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu, are suffering from inflammation of the intestines and stomach, which is classified as the gastrointestinal tract. Gastroenteritis is caused by a number of factors, including a virus, a bacterium, or a parasite. It does not have to be caused by an infection. The triggers for gastroenteritis can include a food allergy, like lactose intolerance or an allergic reaction to specific food types. (1, 2)

On the other hand, the flu is caused by a virus well-known to be influenza. The flu typically mimics symptoms experienced during a respiratory cold, except it begins a lot faster and causes more fatigue, fever, and a deeper level of congestion. People who are suffering from an upper respiratory infection, which is also classified under rhinovirus, or the common cold, may suffer from a low-grade fever. However, people who have the flu generally suffer from a fever that is above 100 degrees F. (3)

There are more than 100 types of viruses that cause the common cold. In contrast, only the influenza viruses types A, B, and C, are capable of causing the flu. While there are only three types of influenza capable of causing the flu, each type is capable of countless genetic mutations, and are able to develop different strains within the type each year. The flu is typically considered a mild virus that is irritating and unpleasant. However, it is capable of leading to more severe, and possibly life-threatening illnesses, like pneumonia in people who have a compromised immune system, or medical condition that impairs their immune system. The flu can easily transition into other conditions in people who are young, over 65, asthmatics, diabetics, people suffering from heart disease, cancer, or AIDS. (3)

Treatment of conditions that develop secondary to the flu depends on the person’s overall health, and the specific conditions they are suffering form. In a normal, healthy male or female, treatment for the flu is typically not necessary. The majority of individuals are able to successfully recover from the illness by increasing their fluid intake, resting, and eating right. People who have underlying medical conditions may require supportive care from a doctor, or a hospital-based program. This allows them easy access to oxygen, IV fluids, and antibiotics should they develop pneumonia.

Gastroenteritis, typically referred to as the stomach flu, may include a headache, inflamed lymph nodes, fever, varying degrees of headache, and other symptoms, depending on the foreign body infecting them. Many individuals experience stomach cramps, stomach pain, varying degrees of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is possible to experience gastroenteritis by developing other conditions, like food poisoning, allergic reactions to food, inflammatory bowel disease, parasites, and viral and bacterial infections.

In severe cases, people suffering from gastroenteritis can cause the loss of large amounts of body fluid. Loss of body fluid can result in dehydration. It does not require the loss of a lot of fluid to cause a situation where immediate treatment by a doctor is needed. Any signs of dehydration should be taken seriously. These symptoms include dry mucus membranes, decreased skin elasticity, decreased urine output, excessive thirst, lightheadedness, and dizziness. (4) People who have gastroenteritis may be unable to keep water down without throwing it back up, or may find they are losing substantial amounts of fluid because of diarrhea.

The majority of people who face gastroenteritis can successfully treat themselves at home, with supportive care. Many cases, such as viral infection or allergic reactions to food, are able to recover completely without medical assistance. Dehydration can be avoided by sipping clear fluids. Once vomiting has stopped for at least four hours, the BRAT diet can be introduced. The BRAT diet stands for bananas, rice apple sauce and toast. Bland foods are easier on the digestive system, and allow an easy way to reintroduce foods back into the diet, even when the stomach is uncertain. While it is not very flavorful, nutrition and calories are important to recovering from being ill, and helps increase energy levels, powering the immune system.

Usage of the Word Flu
When doctors and other medical staff mention the term ‘flu’, they are directly referring to the influenza based respiratory condition. When they refer to the stomach virus, they might refer to it as ‘the stomach flu’ which makes it easier for patients to understand. Responsible medical staff that seeks to educate their patients will refer to it as ‘gastroenteritis’ or ‘stomach virus.’

Differentiating between the two standalone diagnoses should be simple. However, there are some patients who suffer from the influenza virus, and present with vomiting and diarrhea. This makes differentiating between the two a little more difficult. While these symptoms are not common, people with a sensitive stomach can experience them when they are suffering from the respiratory virus.

Now that you know, make sure the next time you tell someone you have the flu, you are specific about the illness you are experiencing.

(1) Cleveland Clinic: Gastroenteritis

(2) Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Viral Gastroenteritis

(3) What is the Flu?

(4) Dehydration

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