Stomach flu is a form of gastroenteritis caused by a viral, bacterial or parasitic infection. It causes inflammation and irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. Consuming food and water contaminated by germs is the prominent cause of gastroenteritis. Poor hygienic practices are widely responsible for transporting the disease causing microbes into the stomach and intestines.
Treatment for stomach flu depends on the exact cause of the infection. Viral infections usually do not require any treatment. The symptoms of viral stomach flu subside naturally within a few days. However, stomach flu caused by bacteria and protozoan requires medications. In addition to killing the infectious agents thriving in the gastrointestinal tract, medications are sometimes needed for treating diarrhea and vomiting, the common symptoms of stomach flu.
In some cases, stomach flu may develop as a side effect of certain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, laxatives, steroids and caffeine. Avoiding these drugs alleviates inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Stomach flu may also be sign of food intolerance, food allergies or exposure to heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury.
Medications to Treat Stomach Flu
Antibiotics are used for treating stomach flu only if a bacterial infection is identified through a laboratory test.
Common bacteria associated with stomach flu include Shigella, Campylobacter and Vibrio cholerae.
Fluoroquinolones are traditionally used for treating stomach flu caused by bacterial infection. Antibiotics classified as fluoroquinolone include ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin, enoxacin, norfloxacin, gatifloxacin, moxifloxacin, lomefloxacin, sparfloxacin and levofloxacin. These antibiotics are usually not recommended for children. Fluoroquinolones other than norfloxacin and enoxacin can be taken with food. However, ciprofloxacin should not be taken with dairy and calcium rich foods. The dosage varies according to the type of antibiotic drug and the severity of the infection. Usually 100 to 750 mg of a fluoroquinolone tablet can be taken twice a day.
Given the rising incidence to resistance to fluoroquinolones, macrolide antibiotics are usually preferred by doctors for treating stomach flu caused by a bacterial infection. Erythromycin is traditionally used for killing the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
However, the new generation macrolides such as azithromycin and clarithromycin are considered more effective in treating bacterial stomach flu. In some cases, erythromycin may cause allergic reactions and cholestatic hepatitis. These drugs may interact with the blood thinning drug warfarin.
Stomach flu caused by protozoan can be treated with tinidazole. Your physician may recommend a single dose of the drug or a one dose each day for up to five days for killing the protozoa. Stomach pain, constipation, appetite loss and vomiting are possible side effects of the drug.
Antiemetics are prescribed for reducing vomiting. These medicines are occasionally recommended for children above two years of age.
Common antiemetics include promethazine, ondansetron and prochlorperazine.
Promethazine can be taken orally or used as rectal suppository. For treating vomiting, a promethaxine tablet can be taken four to six times a day. Drowsiness, dry mouth, ringing in the ear and vision problems are possible side effects of the drug.
Ondansetron stops vomiting by inhibiting the activities of serotonin, a substance that triggers nausea and vomiting. It is available in the form of tablet and solution. Headache, dizziness and weakness are common side effects of this antiemetic drug.
Prochlorperazine can be taken orally or used as a rectal suppository for stopping vomiting. It can be given to children above two years of age. The dosage of the drug varies according to age.
Dizziness, drowsiness, stuffed nose, dry mouth, difficulty in urinating and increased appetite are possible side effects of the drug.
As diarrhea helps to eliminate the microbes from the gastrointestinal tract, doctors usually avoid prescribing anti-diarrhea drugs for treating diarrhea caused by stomach flu. However, when stomach flu is caused by a non-toxic substance, doctors may prescribe an antidiarrheal to reduce excessive loss of fluid from the body. Common antidiarrheals include diphenoxylate atropine and loperamide hydrochloride.
Medications containing diphenoxylate and atropine are used for treating severe diarrhea. This antidiarrheal is not recommended for children. This medication is available in the form of tablets and solutions. Usually 5 mg of the drug is taken three to four times a day.
In some cases, this drug may cause constipation, bloating, stomach pain and loss of appetite. Vision problems, shortness of breath, drowsiness and dry mouth are rare side effects of the drug.
By slowing down muscle movement in the gastrointestinal tract, loperamide hydrochloride increases water absorption from the stools, thereby making the feces firmer. This drug is occasionally recommended for treating diarrhea in children below 12 years of age. Abdominal pain, constipation, nausea and headache are possible side effects of the drug.