How to Safely Recover From a Stomach Infection

Reduce Your Risk of IBS After a GI Illness

Woman with a Stomach Infection. Credit: Getty Images

The stomach flu, and its accompanying symptoms such as vomiting, fever, and ​diarrhea, can make you miserable. Fortunately, it is almost always self-limiting and most people recover fully without any treatment.

However, if you get sick from a stomach infection, there are important steps that you need to take to help increase the probability that you will experience a rapid and complete recovery. Why the necessity?

Experiencing an acute gastrointestinal infection raises your risk of developing ongoing digestive symptoms, a condition called post-infectious IBS (IBS-PI). Follow these simple guidelines to reduce your risk.

1. Get Rest

Seems easy enough, but face it—many of us decide we are too busy to take proper care of ourselves. You may need to re-think this. One well-designed study found a clear link between activity level and the later onset of IBS. Patients who developed IBS following an acute GI illness were less likely to rest in response to initial symptoms and more likely to remain active throughout the course of the illness.

2. Don’t Suppress Vomiting

Vomiting is part of the body’s own defenses against foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. In studies of one specific bacteria, patients who experienced vomiting during the acute stage of their illness had their risk of developing IBS-PI reduced by half.

With this in mind, if you have the urge to vomit, go ahead and do so. However, vomiting also will lead to losing fluids, which brings up the next point.

3. Stay Hydrated and Drink Clear Liquids

When you have a stomach infection, staying hydrated can help you feel better and recover faster. Through vomiting and diarrhea, vital fluids are lost and need to be replaced.

Choose clear liquids and those with electrolytes, but make sure to avoid sugary and caffeinated drinks as these can worsen diarrhea. If it is difficult to keep fluids down, take very small but frequent sips or suck on ice chips. 

4. Keep Your Stress Level Low

Research is consistently finding a relationship between high levels of anxiety and stress around the time of the initial illness and the risk of ongoing symptoms. It is thought that this relationship might extend for up to three months before the onset of the illness. Although you may have little control over the stressful events that pop up in your life, using active relaxation and stress management strategies can help to reduce the effect that the outside stress has on our insides.

5. Think Happy Thoughts

As far-fetched as it may seem, what you think can affect how you feel. Patients who are pessimistic about their illness and their symptoms appear to be at higher risk for ongoing problems. If you get ill, think positive thoughts about your illness. Talk to yourself like a loving parent, reassuring yourself that you will be “all better soon.”

6. What to Eat When Recovering from a Stomach Illness

As your stomach begins to settle, gradually try bland foods that are easy to digest.

Some standards are soda crackers, rice, gelatin, unbuttered toast, potatoes, and bananas. Avoid dairy products, fatty foods, sugary foods, and spicy foods. Skip alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. If you feel nausea returning, stop eating. Take it slow and easy.

Sources:

Spence, M. & Moss-Morris, R. “ The cognitive behavioural model of irritable bowel syndrome: a prospective investigation of patients with gastroenteritis" Gut 2007 56:1066-1071.

Spiller, R. “Post-infectious Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Sub-Type of Irritable Bowel Syndrome” International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Fact Sheet.

Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu) Lifestyle and home remedies. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/viral-gastroenteritis/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20019350.

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