Learn the differences between a cold, the flu virus or stomach flu.

Symptoms of the influenza (flu) virus and the common cold can appear similar. Usually, symptoms of the common cold are milder than symptoms of the flu.

Signs you might have a cold:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Headache or mild body aches 

Signs you might have the flu: 

  • Cough or sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Fever above 100 degrees F
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches, headaches, or fatigue

What is the stomach flu (gastroenteritis) and what causes it?

The stomach flu is different than the influenza (flu) virus. Influenza is an illness that mainly affects the respiratory system— your nose, throat and lungs— and symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat and a runny nose.  

Commonly referred to as stomach flu, gastroenteritis is a virus that impacts your intestines.

Symptoms of stomach flu: 

  • Abdominal cramps/pain in your stomach area
  • Vomiting, nausea or both
  • Headache or muscle aches
  • Low-grade fever 

One stomach flu symptom is watery or non-bloody diarrhea. Bloody diarrhea may indicate a more severe or different type of infection. Viral diarrhea can be a symptom of stomach flu, but diarrhea can also be caused by bacteria, such as salmonella, E. coli or parasites.

Treatment for stomach flu for adults: 

  • Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest: Avoid caffeinated beverages and try sucking on ice chips if it's hard to drink water.
  • Follow a BRAT (Bananas, Rice Applesauce and Toast) diet: Eat bland or easy-to-digest foods for the first few days and gradually return to eating normally.
  • Use medications carefully and cautiously: Certain medications, like ibuprofen, can make your stomach more upset. Talk to your doctor about what medications you are allowed to take while you have the stomach flu. 

Stomach flu treatment for children and infants:

  • Make sure your child stays hydrated: Children with gastroenteritis don't absorb plain water well, which means that water may not replace lost electrolytes. Give your child an oral rehydration solution (available at a pharmacy without a prescription) and don't let your child drink apple juice, which can worsen one's diarrhea. 
  • Stay away from over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medications: These medications, unless prescribed by a doctor, can make it more difficult for your child to get rid of the stomach flu virus. 

When should you go to the doctor for the stomach flu?

Adults and children should see a doctor for stomach flu treatment if they can't keep liquids down for 24 hours, have been vomiting for more than two days, show signs of dehydration, have a high fever, or have bloody diarrhea. 

When to go to the ER:

You should seek medical attention immediately if you have a sustained fever of over 102 degrees F and any combination of these symptoms. Remember, if you feel your life is in danger, you should call 911.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vertigo/lightheadedness
  • Severe vomiting
  • Severe chest or stomach pain
  • Dehydration

Located in downtown Denver, Rose Medical Center is one of the top private hospitals in Colorado. Rose Medical Center provides a full-service, centrally located Emergency Department along with general health care and serves the Denver metropolitan area and surrounding suburbs.