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Stomach flu stages, how long it lasts, and treatments

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StagesDurationTreatmentsNatural remediesSummary
Stomach flu, or viral gastroenteritis, typically lasts only a few days, but the exact time it takes to go away depends on different factors. Home remedies and medications may help you manage symptoms and speed up recovery.
Medically reviewed by Michaela Murphy, PA-C
Written by D. M. Pollock
Updated on

Stomach flu is an infection that causes inflammation and irritates your gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), causing symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting. The different viruses that can cause stomach flu include:

  • norovirus
  • rotavirus
  • adenovirus
  • astrovirus

The type of virus that causes the infection, as well as your age and general health, may determine how long symptoms can last.

Read on to learn more about how long stomach flu may last and how to manage your symptoms to speed up recovery.

What are the stages of stomach flu?

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Stomach flu can take between 1 and 10 days to produce symptoms, depending on the virus. Symptoms of norovirus, the most common type of stomach flu, appear within around 12–48 hours after you come into contact with the virus.

Often, symptoms appear suddenly. You may feel extremely nauseous and vomit or have sudden diarrhea.

Some people report abdominal pains and headaches before any vomiting or diarrhea occurs.

Once you begin vomiting or experiencing diarrhea, it typically lasts less than a week. However, depending on the type of infection, your symptoms may linger for up to 2 weeks.

As the virus progresses, you may experience fatigue, weakness, and a loss of appetite.

Once symptoms have cleared, it may still be possible to pass the virus on to other people. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends avoiding contact with other people for at least 48 hours after symptoms resolve as the virus may be able to spread. As some viruses can live on surfaces for long periods of time, it is important to continue washing surfaces and hands regularly.

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How long does stomach flu last?

In most cases, stomach flu symptoms will not last longer than a week. However, exactly what to expect during an infection depends on multiple factors, such as:

  • your age
  • the type of virus
  • the health of your immune system

If you have a weak immune system or are older, you are more likely to experience stomach flu symptoms for longer.

Different viruses cause symptoms for different periods of time:

  • Norovirus: It takes around 12–48 hours for symptoms to develop. They last around 1–3 days.
  • Rotavirus: It takes around 2 days for symptoms to develop. They last around 3–8 days.
  • Adenovirus: It takes around 3–10 days for symptoms to develop. They last around 1–2 weeks.
  • Astrovirus: It takes around 4–5 days for symptoms to develop. They last around 1–4 days.

What are the treatments for stomach flu?

Most people with stomach flu do not need any specific treatment to get better.

Doctors do not prescribe antibiotic medications for stomach flu, as they do not treat viruses.

Instead of prescribing medications to directly treat the virus, doctors may recommend medications to help manage specific symptoms.

These can include over-the-counter (OTC) antidiarrheal drugs that can help lessen diarrhea from stomach flu. These include loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol).

Anti-nausea medications may help to stop vomiting. This includes metoclopramide (Maxolon) and prochlorperazine (Compazine).

It is important to note that not every medication will be suitable for children. It is best to speak with a doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication for stomach flu.

If your condition becomes severe, and you notice symptoms of dehydration, you may need medication intervention. This typically involves intravenous (IV) fluids to rehydrate you.

If you need help covering the cost of medications, Optum Perks’ free Discount Card could help you get up to 80% off prescription medication. See how much you can save on your medication here.

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What are the natural remedies for stomach flu?

You can take various steps at home to help manage stomach flu symptoms.

  • Keep hydrated: It is important to make sure that you keep drinking fluids and replacing the electrolytes lost during diarrhea and vomiting. This will help prevent dehydration. If you cannot stomach water, try sucking on an ice cube until you can drink water.
  • Probiotics: A 2023 review suggests that certain probiotics may help quicken your recovery from norovirus. You can find probiotics OTC at most pharmacies.
  • Following the BRAT diet: Doctors may recommend following the BRAT diet during a bout of stomach flu. This is a diet of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. This works by replacing lost sugars while preventing any further irritation of your stomach to help you recover faster.

Your doctor can provide more advice on ways to help speed up recovery from stomach flu.

Summary

Stomach flu can last anywhere from 1 day to 2 weeks, depending on the type. Norovirus, the most common type of stomach flu, lasts around 1–3 days.

While there are no specific treatments a doctor can prescribe to treat stomach flu, there are various ways of managing your symptoms to aid a fast recovery. These include making sure you stay hydrated and eating bland foods.

It is best to speak with a doctor before taking any medication to ease symptoms of stomach flu. Certain medications may not be suitable for children.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications. 

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