Stomach Flu While Pregnant: Symptoms, Causes & How To Cope With It


The number one cause of mild diarrhea globally is viral infections, which some people may also call stomach flu. This is because different viruses cause these gastrointestinal issues.

Fortunately, these viruses usually cause self-limiting illness that rarely requires any treatment except managing dehydration.

During pregnancy, some women may become prone to more severe gastroenteritis due to these viruses because of hormonal changes and changes in immune responses.

Thus, in some cases, there may be a more severe infection causing prolonged diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, along with abdominal pain. In addition, severe infections may cause abdominal colic.

Some of the common symptoms of stomach flu are:

  • Fever – generally low grade
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Watery stool or diarrhea
  • Headache and fatigue
  • Muscle aches and general soreness

The severity of symptoms would vary considerably among individuals. In many instances, symptoms are quite mild and do not require medical attention.

However, in a small number of cases, things may become pretty nasty, necessitating medical help.

Causes of stomach flu

As already mentioned that the prime cause of stomach flu is viral infections, and that is why antibiotics are of limited use in these conditions. Some of the common viruses that cause stomach flu are norovirus and rotavirus [1].

Viruses, though rarely cause any severe gastrointestinal infection is highly contagious. However, they cause symptoms quite quickly, and most would develop symptoms within 12 hours to 2 days.

Some of the common reasons for these infections are drinking contaminated water, eating raw food, touching contaminated surfaces, coming in close contact with someone affected by these infections, and eating poorly cooked foods.

Stomach flu and pregnancy

Though stomach flu is rarely the cause of concern, pregnancy is a particular physiological state. Thus, the risk of more severe illness during pregnancy is a bit higher. In addition, any infection during pregnancy may threaten fetal well-being, may lead to pre-term birth, or cause other issues.

Moreover, treatment options are limited during pregnancy in case the infection becomes more severe.

The kind of threat posed by stomach flu would depend on the period of pregnancy. Thus, the risks posed in early pregnancy differ from those in late pregnancy.

The first trimester

These are sensitive times, as fetal organ formation occurs during the first 12 weeks. During this phase, any ailments increase the risk of congenital disorders. Though any risk posed by stomach flu to fetal health is relatively low, there is some risk.

Additionally, it is worth understanding that most first trimester is also associated with high abortion risk. In fact, nearly one-fifth of pregnancy end up with unplanned abortion, and more than 80% of such abortions occur in the first trimester [2]. Any disease during this period that increases the motility of specific muscles may increase abortion risk.

The second trimester

This period is more about growth. During this phase, the baby gains lots of weight; thus, any health issues during this period may negatively impact the baby’s growth.

Stomach flu is not likely to have any direct negative impact on the baby. However, it may cause diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and loss of appetite. Though acute illness may only last a few days, its impact on health may last for a few weeks. Thus, stomach flu may slow down the baby’s growth.

The third trimester

Stomach flu causes stomach cramps. However, this may also stimulate the uterus. This increases the risk of pre-term childbirth. It may also induce labor pains and more.

Further, dehydration during this phase is not suitable for the baby’s health.

Additionally, stomach flu in late pregnancy may also affect breast milk production, which is also a cause of concern.

Managing stomach flu

Stomach flu is a viral infection, and it means that antibiotics are of no use against them. Fortunately, stomach flu is a self-limiting illness. Thus, one should mainly focus on preventing dehydration.

It is vital to stay at home during stomach flu since the infection is quite contagious. However, it is better to keep a distance if you have a child. During stomach flu, keep yourself hydrated and rested. You can use natural remedies like ginger to control nausea and vomiting.

Keep drinking fluid in small amounts, even if you feel nauseated. Additionally, eat car-rich foods like bread, pasta, or rice. You can also add probiotic-rich foods like yogurt to your diet.

Do you need to see a doctor?

Well, it depends on the severity of the symptoms and how long they last. If symptoms become more severe or they last for more than 72 hours, it is a cause for concern.

However, it is pretty likely that you are affected by something else in such a case, like a bacterial infection, food poisoning, appendicitis, and so on. Thus, it is always a good idea to seek medical attention if diarrhea and vomiting are severe.

Importance of staying hydrated

No medication can help treat stomach flu. Fortunately, the body will initiate an immune response and eliminate the infection. Therefore, it is vital to prevent dehydration when affected by stomach flu. This would help prevent many ill effects of stomach flu.

Thus, if affected by stomach flu, consider the following:

  • Drinking plenty of water, herbal tea, juice, and broth
  • Drink ginger ale to manage both dehydration and nausea
  • Sucking ice cubes may also help reduce nausea and dehydration

However, avoid oral rehydration salts and high-caffeine drinks.

Conclusion

Stomach flu is not rare, though in most cases, it only causes mild health issues. It is caused by viral infections, and thus using antibiotics is not an option.

However, stomach flu may pose some threat to pregnancy due to dehydration. Thus, the key to managing stomach flu is staying hydrated.

References

  1. Soloviov SO, Todosiichuk TS, Kovaliuk OV, et al. Rotaviruses and Noroviruses as Etiological Agents of Acute Intestinal Diseases of Ukrainian Children. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022;19(8):4660. doi:10.3390/ijerph19084660
  2. Jennings K. Abortion By The Numbers. Forbes. Accessed October 31, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/katiejennings/2022/05/07/abortion-by-the-numbers/
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