The Difference Between Food Poisoning and a Stomach Bug

You might be sitting on the couch and suddenly start feeling pain in your abdomen. It is most likely that you know at once that something is wrong with your stomach but you don’t really know what it exactly is. It might either be food poisoning or a stomach bug but the truth is that some people still think that both conditions are the same.

People get surprised when they visit the doctor after they search for “urgent care near me” and find out that they made a wrong guess about their condition.

People often confuse food poisoning with the stomach bug and vice versa due to their similar symptoms but in fact, they are two different conditions. As it is crucial to identify the problem to solve it, similarly, for the sake of speedy recovery, it is important to correctly diagnose the problem.  That is why we will tell you about the stomach bug, food poisoning, their signs, symptoms and the difference between them.

Stomach Bug

Stomach bug, which is technically called viral gastroenteritis and sometimes it is referred to as stomach flu. It is actually an inflammation of the stomach and intestine caused by an intestinal infection. The illness can be caused by either having contact with an infected person, the surface on which the virus is present or consuming food contaminated by the virus.

The name stomach flu is very misleading because the stomach bug is not the flu at all but it is very different from influenza which only affects the respiratory system.

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning sometimes referred to as foodborne illness, is an illness that is most commonly caused by consuming food contaminated with infectious organisms such as bacteria, viruses and other parasites and also by their toxins.

The main reasons for food poisoning due to food contamination are uncooked, undercooked or unpasteurized edibles.

You may detailed information about the temperatures at which the food should be cooked from your local walk-in clinic.

Signs and Symptoms

Both illnesses share similar symptoms, which is why they are often confused with one another.

Stomach Bug

The appearing of the symptoms will start within one or three days of you being infected, depending upon the cause of the illness. The intensity may vary from mild to severe, depending upon the same factor.

The symptoms are:

  • Diarrhea that is watery and non-bloody. If it is blood, it is a sign of a more severe viral gastroenteritis.
  • Pain and cramps in the abdominal area
  • Occasional headache and/or body ache
  • Vomiting, nausea or both.
  • Weight loss
  • Stiff joints

Food Poisoning

The symptoms start appearing within hours of consuming contaminated food. The severity of the symptoms depends upon the cause of the illness and it may stay for an hour to a week. Normally food poisoning goes away within a day.

The symptoms are:

  • Thirst
  • Difficult breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Discomfort
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache and muscle aches
  • Eye swelling
  • Sweating


The main difference between food poisoning and stomach bug is their causes. The stomach bug is caused by viruses while food poisoning can be caused due to different microbes. The second difference is the incubation period of the illness. While it only takes 2 to 4 hours for a person to have food poisoning after eating contaminated food, it takes 24 hours to 48 hours for a person to get stomach bug after being infected with the virus. Moreover, some symptoms are different as in case of food poisoning the unique symptoms are thirst, fatigue, sweating, eye swelling, general discomfort while symptoms unique to stomach bug are stiff joints and weight loss.

In order to prevent confusion, whenever you feel something wrong with your stomach, search for “urgent care near me” for a professional medical examination.