The Best Remedies for a Stomach Flu

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The stomach flu, also known as gastroenteritis, is a common illness that’s caused by a virus, bacteria, or parasite. It’s most often caused by a common and highly contagious stomach bug called norovirus.

When you have gastroenteritis, the lining of your intestines becomes inflamed, which causes unpleasant symptoms like nausea, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps.

Even though the stomach flu can make you feel awful, it usually lasts as little as a day or two. Typically, rest, hydration, and other helpful home remedies can help you recover without the need for medical intervention. 

It may not always be possible to avoid getting sick with the stomach flu, but the best way to protect yourself from the bug is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. This is especially important after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, and before and after handling food.

If you’ve come down with the stomach flu, there are ways to ease symptoms and improve your chances of recovering quickly. Here’s what you need to know about the stomach flu, including evidence-based ways to feel better fast. 

Sick black girl lying on the couch with abdominal pain

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Replenishing Fluids

In most cases, the stomach flu isn’t dangerous. However, it can cause serious dehydration and loss of minerals if vomiting and diarrhea are uncontrolled. 

Dehydration can be a concern if you’re unable to replenish fluids and electrolytes like sodium and potassium from diarrhea and vomiting. Serious dehydration from the stomach flu is most common in babies, children, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems

Nonetheless, everyone with the stomach flu should focus on proper hydration to avoid dehydration. 

For adults with the stomach flu, it’s recommended to replenish lost fluids by consuming a variety of liquids such as:

  • Water
  • Broth
  • Juice
  • Sports drinks with electrolytes

Eating salty, easy-to-digest foods like saltines can also help replace lost electrolytes like sodium and give you a bit of energy.

Meanwhile, kids, older adults with weakened immune systems, and those experiencing severe diarrhea and vomiting require specialized rehydration drinks that also contain glucose and electrolytes. 

Examples of rehydration solutions include:

  • CeraLyte
  • Infalyte
  • NaturaLyte
  • Pedialyte

If you or someone you’re caring for is experiencing significant fluid loss from the stomach flu or showing signs of dehydration such as dizziness, extreme fatigue, or confusion, contact your healthcare provider right away.

Drug Store Remedies

If you’re experiencing gastroenteritis-related diarrhea, the following over-the-counter medications (OTC) may help:

  • Pepto-Bismol
  • Kaopectate
  • Imodium

Keep in mind that these medications aren’t safe for children and should be avoided if you’re experiencing bloody diarrhea or have a fever. 


Pepto-Bismol is a popular OTC medication that’s commonly used to treat digestive symptoms like indigestion and heartburn. It may also help treat mild diarrhea symptoms by reducing the severity of digestive symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and gas. 

Pepto-Bismol and similar medications like Kaopectate contain bismuth subsalicylate. This compound is broken down in the digestive system where it helps fight bacteria and prevent fluid loss. 

Here's how Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate help fight diarrhea:

  • Prevents diarrhea-causing bacteria from binding and growing on the walls of the stomach
  • Decreases inflammation in the digestive tract
  • Ramps up fluid and electrolyte reabsorption
  • Reduces intestinal secretion 

When used appropriately, Pepto-Bismol is safe for most people. Some people may experience minor side effects like black poop or nausea, but this usually goes away once you stop taking the medication.

Pepto-Bismol should be avoided if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, have an allergy to the ingredients used in Pepto-Bismol, or if you have a condition like diabetes or gout. 

Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before giving this medicine to children.


Imodium (loperamide) is another OTC medication that could be helpful for treating diarrhea caused by the stomach flu. It works by slowing down the movement of the gut, which can help reduce diarrhea.

You may experience some side effects when taking Imodium, such as constipation or fatigue, but these are usually mild. However, Imodium can lead to serious side effects like changes in heart rhythm, which can be life-threatening.

If you currently have or have experienced a slow or irregular heartbeat, issues with fainting, or have been told you have low levels of potassium in your blood, you should not take this medication unless it’s cleared by your healthcare provider.

Imodium is unsafe for children under the age of two and should be avoided if you’re taking certain medications, including amiodarone and methadone. 


In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend probiotics to treat the stomach flu. Probiotics are live microbes that are found in your gut and in certain foods.

When taken as a supplement, some types of probiotics may help ease stomach flu-related symptoms like diarrhea.

Some studies show that certain probiotic supplements could help shorten the duration of diarrhea caused by gastroenteritis in kids and adults.

Probiotic strains that may be helpful for treating the stomach flu include: 

  • Bifidobacterium infantis
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Dietary Measures

Fueling your body with certain foods could also help improve stomach flu symptoms.  

Bland foods, like those included in the BRAT diet, are easy on the digestive system and may help ease symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea:

  • Bananas
  • White rice
  • Applesauce
  • Toast

These foods are not only friendly to a queasy stomach but may also help firm up loose stools.

A Quick Review

If you’re sick with the stomach flu, there are evidence-based ways to reduce symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. 

Making sure you’re replacing lost fluids and electrolytes by staying hydrated with broth, juice, and sports drinks is essential.

OTC medications like Pepto-Bismol can also help calm your stomach and combat diarrhea. Probiotics may be effective in shortening the duration of diarrhea symptoms. 

Even though most people recover from the stomach flu in just a few days, some people may need medical treatment. Contact your healthcare provider if you have a high fever, are showing signs of dehydration, or if you’re experiencing severe diarrhea or vomiting.

Once you’ve recovered from the stomach flu, keep in mind that you can still spread the virus. You should avoid making or sharing food with others for at least two days after your symptoms resolve. 

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  2. National Institute of Health. Treatment of viral gastroenteritis ("stomach flu").

  3. National Institute of Health. Bismuth subsalicyclate.

  4. National Health Services. Pepto-Bismol.

  5. National Institute of Health. Loperamide.

  6. Ansari F, Pashazadeh F, Nourollahi E, Hajebrahimi S, Munn Z, Pourjafar H. A systematic review and meta-analysis: The effectiveness of probiotics for viral gastroenteritisCurr Pharm Biotechnol. 2020;21(11):1042-1051. doi:10.2174/1389201021666200416123931

  7. Kluijfhout S, Trieu TV, Vandenplas Y. Efficacy of the probiotic probiotical confirmed in acute gastroenteritisPediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2020;23(5):464-471. doi:10.5223/pghn.2020.23.5.464

  8. National Institute of Health. Diarrhea.

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