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

Contributor: Julie Kirk
Feeling sick during pregnancy

When you feel sick to your stomach, you may be unsure if you have a stomach flu or a case of morning sickness (nausea and vomiting during pregnancy). If you've been wondering, "am I sick or pregnant?" look for the symptoms that can help you tell the difference between them.

Symptoms of Being Sick or Pregnant

Morning sickness and stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) have similar symptoms of stomach queasiness, or nausea and vomiting. Since some of the symptoms of being ill are similar to early pregnancy symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference. 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

Early Pregnancy Symptoms Other Than Morning Sickness

Additional early pregnancy symptoms other than the nausea and vomiting of morning sickness include:

  • Breast tenderness and swelling
  • Cramping
  • Spotting or light bleeding
  • Sensitivity to smells
  • Headache
  • Backache
  • Fatigue
  • Darker nipples/areola
  • Prominent veins in breasts
  • Bloating
  • Mood swings
  • Missed period
  • Frequent urination
  • Food cravings
  • Food aversions

If you are experiencing these symptoms or any combination of these symptoms in addition to nausea and vomiting, there may be a chance you're pregnant.

Stomach Flu Symptoms

Additional symptoms of the stomach flu other than nausea and vomiting include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach or intestinal cramping
  • Low-grade fever
  • Headache
  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue

Symptoms from the stomach flu can be mild to severe and will develop within 24 to 72 hours after being exposed to the virus. It typically lasts a couple days but could persist for up to 10 days.

The Differences in Symptoms

Does early pregnancy feel like a stomach bug? It can, especially if you are experiencing other symptoms. You may want to take a pregnancy quiz to help discern them. Because the symptoms are similar, it might not be easy for you to tell the difference between the stomach flu and morning sickness.

Woman holding her stomach

Of course, you could be pregnant and have the stomach flu at the same time. 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 over-the-counter 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.

Other Possible Causes of Nausea and Vomiting

There are a number of possible causes for nausea and vomiting other than morning sickness and stomach flu which include:

Medicines

There is no medicine that can cure the stomach flu, which is caused by a virus, or morning sickness, whose cause is uncertain. Over-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 are recommended for morning sickness and 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.

Figuring Out the Cause of Your Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting can be attributed to various conditions and diseases. You and your doctor may need to do a little investigative work in order to come up with a conclusive diagnosis so you can be treated accordingly or you can begin your prenatal care for your pregnancy.

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