We’ve all been there: your stomach is cramping up, you’re making frequent trips to the bathroom, and you might even be feverish or throwing up. You’d like to think that the pain will be over as soon as your body rids itself of the toxins within it, but you’re not sure exactly what’s going to happen or how long these symptoms will last.
The main question then becomes: what is the cause of these stomach issues? The symptoms you’re experiencing could be from any number of things, whether it be food poisoning, a stomach bug, or chronic irritable bowel syndrome. At Community Access Network, we want to provide you with the education you need to make informed choices about how you react to being ill. We’ve gathered information for you now on how to tell whether the stomach issues you’re experiencing are from food poisoning or something else, and what to expect from these conditions.
Food poisoning is often the best cause of stomach issues, if there were such a thing. The reason for this is that it doesn’t usually stick around for long, and it’s rarely severely dangerous to your overall health. Food poisoning is contracted by exposure to bacteria from contaminated or spoiled food, such as undercooked meats, unpasteurized drinks or dairy products or poorly washed produce. The symptoms can show up hours to days after the food is consumed (but usually more quickly than a stomach bug), depending on the type of bacteria involved. The sickness itself can last up to several days, though most often it doesn’t last longer than one or two. This is all dependent on the type of infection, and the sickness can usually be traced back to a food source. However, it’s important to remember that every case is different, and all or only a few symptoms may be present. These symptoms include diarrhea, fever, vomiting, fatigue, discomfort, muscle aches, headaches, sweating, eye swelling, difficulty breathing and thirst. Symptoms are often more intense, sometimes shorter, with food poisoning, as opposed to a stomach bug.
You can prevent food poisoning by thoroughly cooking meat and washing produce, keeping cooking spaces clean, keeping up with the aging of food products in your refrigerator and staying away from restaurants whose foods have historically caused these symptoms. Rest and over-the-counter pain medications will ease the symptoms as you wait for them to pass.
Stomach bugs, also known as viral gastroenteritis, are different from food poisoning in several ways. First, the symptoms of sickness are caused by a viral infection, not bacteria, and they usually don’t begin until a day or two after the sickness was contracted. The infection is usually passed through being in direct contact with someone who already has it or had it recently. The symptoms are similar to food poisoning, however, this is where they tend to get confused. The symptoms include diarrhea or constipation, fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach or intestinal cramps, joint stiffness and sometimes even weight loss. A stomach bug, however, will often take about a week to ten days to fully heal.
With both food poisoning and gastroenteritis, it’s best to drink plenty of water, since dehydration is common in both conditions. You’ll also want to avoid eating anything substantial until the symptoms have passed, though because these illnesses usually kill the appetite, that most likely won’t be a problem. But in order to keep your energy up as much as possible, it’s generally good to try to eat small and easy-to-digest basic foods like crackers, soup and toast until the sickness has passed. If your condition doesn’t get better after a while, or gets worse, it’s best to see a doctor, as there may have been a complication in your condition.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is more than just a temporary sickness. It is a chronic condition that tends to flare up and go away depending on environmental factors. Not many people have severe symptoms when it comes to IBS, but the symptoms are similar enough to food poisoning and stomach bugs that you can mistake for each other. Symptoms include abdominal pain or cramping, excess gas, diarrhea or constipation, and mucus in stool. These symptoms differ from those of food poisoning or gastroenteritis in that the pain is usually limited to the intestines, without fevers or headaches being involved.
The good news for IBS is that a flare-up is often eased or ended by the passing of a bowel movement or the release of the built-up gas in your intestines. This means you may be on the toilet for a time, but once you’ve done what needs to be done, you’re probably free of it for the time being. However, IBS is not often caused by food-borne illnesses or infection, but by environmental or internal stressors. Such stressors can include stress in a job situation, changing hormones and distress from unresolved internal conflicts and emotions. It’s not entirely clear what exactly causes IBS, though muscle contractions, intestinal inflammation and nervous system abnormalities are factors that lead to flare-ups. However, the condition can be managed through exercise, stress-relief techniques, proper diet, and taking dietary supplements such as probiotics.
IBS is twice as common in women as it is in men. But it is also common in people under the age of 50, people who have a family history of IBS or other gastrointestinal problems and people with mental disorders such as anxiety or depression.
If you are experiencing stomach-related pains and they don’t seem to be getting better, we at Community Access Network are here to help! Contact us today or walk in to see one of our doctors!