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Difference between Stomach flu and diarrhea

Stomach flu vs Diarrhea

Stomach flu is also termed as viral gastroenteritis. Viruses like noravirus, rotavirus, astrovirus cause stomach flu. It has an acute onset and is a contagious disorder as it is caused by a viral infection. It can pass from one person to another due to lack of food hygiene and unclean hands. It shows many symptoms of gastrointestinal tract (GIT) as well as other symptoms.

Diarrhea is defined as loose watery stools at frequent intervals. Diarrhea is caused due to bacterial infection, parasitic infestations, viral infections, unhygienic food and water intake, certain antibiotics, occasionally due to chemotherapy (treatment of cancer) and also caused by medical disorders like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and lactose intolerance (milk allergy). Diarrhea is one of the major symptoms of stomach flu. Diarrhea can be of three types, acute diarrhea, chronic diarrhea lasting more than 14 days and persistent diarrhea. Also, traveller’s diarrhea is another type caused due to a parasite called giardia lamblia infection. Also, diarrhea can be classified into osmotic (diarrhea that stops when offending agent is removed), secretory (diarrhea that continues even when there is no oral intake) and exudative (diarrhea with presence of blood and pus in stools).

Stomach flu symptoms pertaining to gastrointestinal tract are diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and pain in the abdomen with a decreased appetite. Other symptoms include chills, body ache, fever, joint stiffness, muscle pain etc. Diarrhea is generally accompanied by cramps and pain in the lower abdomen, stools with mucus and blood and offensive loose stools. Dehydration is common to both. It includes a dry parched tongue, decreased urine, sunken eyes, low blood pressure, weakness and sometimes confusion. Dehydration is due to electrolyte imbalance and loss of body fluids. It is a major cause of death in infants suffering from diarrhea.

To have stomach flu diagnosed one needs to investigate with a CBC (complete blood count) to check for increased White Blood Cells. This will show if there is an infection in the stomach or intestines. Essentially stomach flu is a clinical diagnosis, whereas for chronic diarrhea we need to check stool routine for ova (eggs of parasites found in stool); presence of blood and pus cells suggests bacterial infection.

Stomach flu is mostly self resolving and anti-virals are needed in very few cases. Treatment for diarrhea is based on the etiology. Oral rehydration therapy (including more fluids orally) is very important for maintaining body fluids and electrolyte levels. Small quantities of fluid intake every 2 hours are a must. Homemade standard solutions such as salted rice water, vegetable soups are advised. Fruit juices with high sugar content should be avoided. Based on infection antibiotics are given. Also, anti motility drugs are given in few cases to reduce bowel movements. Zinc supplementation and probiotics may be given to diarrhea patients to improve recovery.


Stomach flu is a gastrointestinal disturbance born due to the modern lifestyle, lack of hygienic meals and contamination of hands. Diarrhea is due to entry of an infective agent in the body either via stale food or unclean water intake causing loose and watery stools. Stomach flu can be prevented by healthy/safe meals and cleaning hands every time before meals. If our immunity is good we can ward stomach flu.

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