Stomach pain and cramps are common symptoms of viral gastroenteritis, or stomach flu. Symptoms typically last around 1–3 days but may persist longer, depending on the cause.

The above information comes from the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research.

Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines. Infections that cause gastroenteritis may result from pathogens like bacteria, viruses, or parasites. They may cause abdominal pain and other symptoms.

Stomach flu is another name that people use for viral gastroenteritis. People may also call the condition a stomach bug or tummy bug. Contrary to its nickname, stomach flu infections do not result from influenza viruses, which cause respiratory infections. Several other viruses cause viral gastroenteritis, including norovirus and rotavirus.

The condition is fairly common. Each year, stomach flu is the reason for an estimated 179 million illnesses in the United States.

This article examines how long stomach pain from viral gastroenteritis may last and when someone can expect to recover. It also discusses symptoms, treatment, tips to prevent infection, and when to seek medical advice.

Black and white image of a female lying on her sideShare on Pinterest
hsyncoban/Getty Images

Stomach flu symptoms, which may include abdominal pain and stomach cramps, typically begin suddenly and last for approximately 1–3 days.

However, the specific length of time a person’s symptoms last may depend on the individual and which virus is the cause of the condition. For example:

People should speak with a healthcare professional if they experience persistent or severe abdominal pain that does not go away.

A person with stomach flu may experience symptoms such as:

Dehydration is the most common complication of stomach flu. If someone experiences symptoms such as dry mouth, lethargy, and dizziness, they should speak with a doctor as soon as possible.

Usually, someone with viral gastroenteritis will find their symptoms resolve by themselves with bed rest and proper hydration. Treatment tends to focus on replacing fluids to prevent dehydration.

Alongside water, oral rehydration solutions can help people replace electrolytes they may have lost due to vomiting, diarrhea, or fever-related sweating.

If someone cannot hold down food and drink, slowly sipping small amounts of water may help them remain hydrated. To help replace electrolytes, people may also try drinking:

Learn more about electrolyte drinks and how to make them.

In addition, adults may decide to take over-the-counter (OTC) medications with a healthcare professional’s guidance. Examples include bismuth subsalicylate and loperamide to help relieve diarrhea and acetaminophen to help with fever, aches, and pains.

However, a person should not take OTC medications if they have a fever or bloody diarrhea, which may indicate a bacterial or parasitic infection. In this case, they should contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible for alternative treatment.

People can avoid stomach flu infections by taking the following preventive measures:

  • vaccinating children against the rotavirus
  • refraining from preparing or handling food for others if they have any symptoms of stomach flu
  • practicing good hand hygiene, especially after cooking, using the restroom, or changing diapers
  • disinfecting surfaces, particularly if any infected vomit or stool may have touched a surface
  • washing any clothes and fabrics that may have touched infected stool or vomit

Diagnosis is an important aspect of the treatment of stomach flu. A person should contact a doctor if their symptoms do not resolve with rest and plenty of fluids within several days.

A doctor can rule out similar conditions as the cause of a person’s symptoms. Some conditions with symptoms that overlap with viral gastroenteritis can have potentially serious health complications. These may include food poisoning due to bacterial toxins and gastroenteritis caused by other pathogens.

However, these conditions may need different approaches for treatment and may have greater risks of severe complications.

Additionally, adults should seek medical attention as soon as possible if they experience:

A person with stomach flu should contact a doctor straight away if they have an underlying health condition such as:

Similarly, pregnant and older adults should speak with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Stomach flu, or viral gastroenteritis, may cause abdominal pain and cramps. These symptoms are common, and most people find that symptoms resolve with bed rest and lots of fluids within a few days to a week, depending on which virus caused the infection.

Anyone who has experienced symptoms for several days with no improvement or severe symptoms, such as bloody diarrhea, should speak with a doctor to rule out possible other causes of their symptoms.