Food poisoning: Symptoms and Treatment

By Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor

In this article:

  • Know the basics
  • Know the symptoms
  • Know the causes
  • Know the risk factors
  • Understand the treatment
  • Lifestyle changes

Know the basics

Definition 

Food poisoning is a condition caused by ingesting contaminated food. Bacteria, viruses, parasites or their toxins are the most common causes of this condition. The illness is usually not serious and most people would feel better after a few days without treatment.

Know the symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of food poisoning

These include:

  • Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea
  • Stomach ache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Anorexia
  • Myalgia
  • Chills

You may experience other symptoms as an effect of food poisoning. If you have any concerns about signs of illnesses, please consult a doctor.

When do you need to see a doctor?

Visit a doctor if you experience the following signs:

  • Frequent vomiting
  • Bloody vomit or stools
  • Diarrhea for more than 3 days
  • Severe abdominal cramping
  • Oral temperature higher than 38.6oC
  • Thirst, dry mouth, very little to no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness
  • Blurry vision, muscle weakness, and tingling arms.

Know the causes

What are the causes?

You could suffer from food poisoning if you consume contaminated food or water. Food can be contaminated during several phases of production such as growing, harvesting, processing, storing, transporting or preparing. The main cause for contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria from one surface to another. If you regularly consume foods that are not cooked, such as salads or other raw foods, you would be prone to foodborne bacteria which can cause food poisoning.

Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can all cause food poisoning, of which viruses are the leading cause, followed by bacteria.

Another popular cause are toxins which are produced by existing bacteria in foods such as vegetables, meat or fish, and occasionally, other bacteria from the environment. These toxins also may stem from selected chemicals.

Know the risk factors

Who is at risk of food poisoning?

Food poisoning is very common and can affect people of any age. However, you may prevent the condition from occurring by reducing its risk factors. Please consult a doctor for more details.

Factors that increase the risk of food poisoning

There are many factors that increase the risk of food poisoning, such as:

  • Aging: The older generation tend to possess a weaker immune system which may not respond well to harmful bacteria.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant mothers experience a number of changes in metabolism and circulation, placing them at higher risk of food poisoning. The severity of food poisoning may be amplified during pregnancy.
  • Underdeveloped immune systems: Infants and young children with developing immune systems are prone to food poisoning.
  • Those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, liver disease or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Understand the treatment

The information provided herein is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with a doctor for more information.

How is food poisoning diagnosed?

Food poisoning is often diagnosed based on detailed medical history, including the duration of illness, symptoms, and specific foods consumed. Doctors would also perform a physical exam to check for signs of dehydration. They would perform elaborate tests to examine blood, stool culture or parasites, to determine the cause of the condition and provide a conclusive diagnosis.

The stool sample taken would be sent to a laboratory to identify the bacteria that caused the food poisoning. In some cases, the causes may not be determined.

How is food poisoning treated?

For most people, the illness would go away after a few days without treatment, while some types of food poisoning may last longer. If you are unable to recover on your own, the doctor would recommend treatment depending on the cause, symptoms and severity of your condition.

The doctor may advise to just drink plenty of water. Fluids and electrolytes – including minerals such as sodium, potassium, and calcium – can help maintain the body’s balance of water due to excessive loss of liquid from diarrhea. To prevent and treat dehydration, the doctor may use intravenous saline and fluids.

Should the food poisoning caused by bacteria be deemed severe, antibiotics would be issued by the doctor. During pregnancy, timely antibiotic treatment can prevent the fetus from contracting infections.

If you do not experience bloody diarrhea or fever, the doctor may advise you to consume loperamide (Imodium A-D®) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol®).

Home remedies

When experiencing food poisoning, it is important to vomit out previously consumed food. However, vomiting for children should not be induced as they are vulnerable to choking. After vomiting, you should consume oresol solution to replace electrolytes.

If a person experiences seizures, apnea, and cardiac arrest, it would be best to provide them with artificial respiration. If the person goes into a coma, lay them on their side with their head tilted forward to prevent vomit from entering the lungs. After first aid, said person should be rushed to the hospital for immediate medical attention. 

Lifestyle changes

What living habits can help me reduce the progression of food poisoning?

You would be able to prevent food poisoning if you take the following measures:

  • Allow your stomach to settle. Avoid drinking or eating for a few hours.
  • Place small ice cubes into your mouth or take very small sips of water to drink. Drink a broth or non-caffeinated sports drink.
  • When you begin eating again, opt for bland, low-fat, easy-to-digest foods such as toast, gelatin, bananas, and rice.
  • Get lots of rest to recuperate from the illness and dehydration.

What to eat if you are experiencing food poisoning?

After vomiting, the body would feel very weak. Thus, you should consume items that do not aggravate the condition, which include:

  • Fluids. When experiencing food poisoning, the body becomes dehydrated due to loss of liquid, leading to electrolyte imbalance. Therefore, rehydration is of utmost importance. Besides water, you can also consume oresol solution.
  • Bland and easy-to-digest foods. After food poisoning, the intestines are often very weak. You should only consume foods that are easy to digest and do not overwork the stomach. Foods that are considered gentle on the stomach are porridge, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, and soft fruits.
  • Probiotics-rich foods for digestion. The replacement of probiotics after food poisoning would help balance intestinal microflora. Yogurt is the best known probiotic food.

If you have any concerns, please consult a doctor for advice on the best treatment available.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources
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