When do you know it’s food poisoning?

By: Osler Health International
Posted on: 22 Nov 2023

Every day, nearly one in every 10 individuals globally becomes sick from consuming food that has been contaminated. When sudden gastrointestinal discomfort strikes, a critical question often arises: is this a case of food poisoning or just a stomach flu? While the symptoms of both conditions are strikingly similar, a few key differences distinguish them.

Stomach flu vs food poisoning symptoms

For starters, stomach flu often stems from an infection by viruses, but food poisoning can occur when you consume food contaminated by infectious bacteria or parasites. Between the two, food poisoning is the more prevalent condition, with about 48 million people suffering from food poisoning annually. The signs and symptoms can vary, but these often include:

Food Poisoning Stomach Flu
  • Stomach or intestinal cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Thirst
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • A general feeling of illness
Symptoms specific to food poisoning:

  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Sweating
Symptoms specific to stomach flu:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Joint aches

In the case of stomach flu, your symptoms may manifest in 12 to 48 hours. Meanwhile, the symptoms of food poisoning can be observed between a few hours to several days or weeks after the consumption of the contaminated food, depending on the specific pathogen involved.

Can food poisoning be fatal?

Fortunately, like stomach flu, most cases of food poisoning are not life-threatening, and some discomforts can be alleviated with simple remedies. For instance, if you’re dealing with symptoms like diarrhoea, vomiting, or nausea, there are several ways to prevent dehydration:

  • You can suck on ice chips or take small sips of water gradually until your stomach begins to feel more settled.
  • Replenish lost fluids and electrolytes by consuming water, sports drinks, clear sodas, or broth and eating simple, bland foods such as plain crackers.
  • Avoid alcohol and limit caffeine intake (but you probably won’t feel like this anyway).

Once your stomach starts to settle and your appetite begins to return, opt for bland, easy-to-digest foods, such as porridge.

When should I see a doctor for food poisoning?

If your symptoms of food poisoning worsen, it’s important to seek medical advice promptly. Your general physician in Singapore will be able to prescribe antibiotics or suggest intravenous (IV) fluids for hydration. In the case where your ability to travel is affected, seeking teleconsultation services in Singapore is a viable option.

Signs that indicate severe food poisoning requiring medical attention include:

  • Diarrhoea containing blood.
  • Diarrhoea persisting for more than 72 hours.
  • A fever exceeding 102°F.
  • Frequent vomiting that prevents you from retaining fluids.
  • Reduced frequency of urination.
  • Dryness in the mouth and throat.
  • Signs of dehydration, such as weakness, dizziness, or feeling lightheaded when standing up.

Besides this, specific types of food poisoning will also require immediate medical attention regardless of the severity of symptoms. A case in point is botulism. Botulism is caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which releases toxins that adversely affect the nervous system, and this condition can be fatal if not promptly and properly treated. Its symptoms are distinct from general food poisoning and may include blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, and various other neuromuscular issues.

Another example is Listeria infection, which is especially risky for pregnant women as it can affect the unborn baby but can be mitigated when promptly treated with antibiotics. In the case of E. coli food poisoning, it can also lead to serious complications, including kidney failure, particularly in children under the age of five, individuals with compromised immune systems, and the elderly.

If you’re unsure about the cause of your condition or have doubts about how to cure food poisoning, feel free to consult your doctor for more information.

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