How Can You Tell the Difference Between Stomach Flu and Morning Sickness

Vilma Ruddock
Feeling sick during pregnancy

When you feel sick to your stomach, you may be unsure if you have a stomach flu or morning sickness (nausea and vomiting of pregnancy). Look for the symptoms that can help you tell the difference between them.

The Symptoms

Morning sickness and stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) have ​similar​ symptoms of stomach queasiness, ​or nausea and vomiting. Morning sickness is not always confined to the morning. Instead, like stomach flu, you can have symptoms throughout the day.

In both cases the nausea and vomiting, or diarrhea, can range from mild to severe and lead to:

  • Dehydration
  • Loss of electrolytes
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

The Differences in Symptoms

Because the symptoms are similar, it might not be easy for you to tell the difference between stomach flu and morning sickness. First, look for other early symptoms and signs of pregnancy, such as breast tenderness, to help you tell the difference.

Next, if you have the following additional symptoms, it is more likely that you have the stomach flu rather than morning sickness:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Bowel cramps or pain
  • Fever and sometimes chills and sweats
  • Body aches and headache

Of course, you could be pregnant and have the stomach flu at the same time, as well. If you suspect that you might be pregnant, do a home pregnancy test or see your doctor for one to confirm. Don't take any herbal or other OTC medicines to treat your symptoms until you are certain you are not pregnant.

Difference in the Duration of Symptoms

Symptoms of the stomach flu will improve within a few days,​ while morning sickness usually persists until the second trimester of pregnancy. If you have the stomach flu and happen to be pregnant, you will continue to have morning sickness after the diarrhea and systemic symptoms of the stomach flu subside.

Medicines

There is no medicine that can cure the stomach flu, which is caused by a virus, or morning sickness, whose cause is uncertain. O​ver-the-counter ​(OTC) anti-diarrhea and prescription anti-nausea medicines can only alleviate the symptoms until each condition passes. How you respond to a medicine cannot help you tell the difference between stomach flu and morning sickness.

What to Do

The following at-home remedies will help you manage both stomach flu and morning sickness:

  • Drink enough fluids, including electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade, to replace what you lose from vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Ginger tea or ginger chews recommended for morning sickness may also help you relieve the nausea of stomach flu.
  • Eat small meals of bland, non-spicy foods such as foods on the BRAT diet.

Consult Your Doctor

Consult your doctor if you have symptoms of morning sickness or stomach flu and any of the following:

  • Moderate to severe symptoms
  • Can't eat or drink enough
  • Feel weak and listless
  • Feel lightheaded or dizzy
  • Loss of weight
  • You are only passing small amounts of urine and it is dark
  • A fever of a 101 degrees Fahrenheit or greater
  • Symptoms prevent you from doing your usual activities

Severe or prolonged vomiting or diarrhea that leads to weight loss, dehydration, and loss of electrolytes may need to be treated by your doctor, especially if you are pregnant.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Stomach Flu and Morning Sickness