Stomach Bug or Reflux Flare? How To Tell the Difference

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

I have often found, especially this time of year, that many people find it hard to determine if they are dealing with acid reflux flares or an actual stomach virus. It has been hard for me to determine the same with our youngest refluxer too. Most of the time we just have to wait and see how things progress or wait to see whether anyone else gets sick.

I have gotten the same question numerous times from parents
that I work with.

I thought I would share a few tips to highlight the differences in symptoms between acid reflux flare ups and a stomach bug.

Timing of onset. Most flare ups of acid reflux tend to come on gradually. The symptoms might progress over a period of time until they hit you full force with nausea and vomiting. Stomach viruses, on the other hand, tend to hit you fast and furious. You will feel well one day and sick the next.

Temperature. Acid reflux does not cause fever. Any temperature above 100 degrees is likely to be caused by infection not acid reflux.

Additional symptoms. Acid reflux can cause nausea and vomiting but is not as likely to cause other GI symptoms like diarrhea. If you have both vomiting and diarrhea it is more likely to be caused by an infection.

Duration of illness. Stomach viruses tend to be short lived though a virus can last 7-10 days. If your illness goes beyond that point then it is more likely to be caused by a flare up of acid reflux.

Any illness that lingers or causes troublesome symptoms should be addressed by a doctor. Hopefully this list will give you a better idea into what you might be dealing with.
Please do not change any aspect of your medical plan with out discussing it with your physician.

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.