How to Tell If You Have Food Poisoning

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Abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, trouble keeping food down -- the symptoms of food poisoning are very similar to those of the stomach flu. And the treatment for food poisoning and a stomach bug happens to be similar, too. Therefore, you might be able to determine which illness affects you based on timing and symptoms, but in the end, you'll want to treat your body with care in the days following, no matter which illness has struck.

Understanding Food Poisoning

While the stomach flu comes from a virus, food poisoning occurs when you eat food that contains bacteria such as salmonella, listeria, E. coli or Campylobacter. According to KidsHealth, you're most likely to get food poisoning from meat, poultry, eggs, milk and shellfish. But it can also stem from unwashed fruits and vegetables, as well as poor food handling or prepping practices.

Identifying the Symptoms

The symptoms of food poisoning can vary based on which bacteria got into your system, according to the Food and Drug Administration, but there are some common signs. Abdominal cramps, vomiting or nausea, and diarrhea are all standard symptoms, but you can also experience a loss of appetite, a slight fever, chills or a headache.

Timing and Prevalence

A stomach bug can strike at any time, but you might be able to determine food poisoning from when it strikes. Although food poisoning can, in some cases, wait to rear its ugly head for a few days, reports KidsHealth, symptoms from the most common types of food poisoning typically show up within two to six hours of eating the food. In addition, if you ate contaminated food at the same time as others -- such as at a barbecue or a buffet -- you'll know it's food poisoning because others will fall ill at the same time.

When to See a Doctor

Mild food poisoning symptoms can resolve themselves quickly before you make an appointment with your doctor. Typically, someone with food poisoning doesn't need medication, KidsHealth notes, but you could end up in the hospital if you allow yourself to become dehydrated. If you seek medical treatment for serious food poisoning, your doctor might order a sigmoidoscopy, which looks for a source of bleeding or infection in the body.

Recovery at Home

When you feel like you can keep fluids down, sip on water or other clear fluids to prevent dehydration. MedlinePlus also suggests drinking an oral rehydration mixture, which can be purchased from a pharmacy and mixed with water, to replace both fluids and minerals lost from vomiting and diarrhea. When you're ready to start eating again, keep the foods bland and simple, such as crackers, dry toast or plain rice.