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Food Poisoning - Symptoms, Causes, Treatment And Home Remedies

Last Updated: Nov 07, 2019

What is Food Poisining?

Food poisoning is quite common and may even be fatal in extreme cases. Infection with food borne organisms might not show any symptoms or might manifest as abdominal discomfort or bloody diarrhea and severe dehydration. Based on the kind of infection, food poisoning may even lead to death. Over 250 different types of diseases might lead to food poisoning. Few of the common diseases are infections due to bacteria like salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli, botulism, norovirus and listeria.

What are the symptoms of Food Poisoning?

Symptoms may vary from one patient to another, depending on the source of infection. These usually start within 1 to 2 days of eating contaminated food, however, they may also be felt anywhere between a few hours to several weeks later. Symptoms are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea with mucus and blood
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of energy and weakness
  • High fever and chills
  • Aching muscles and severe dehydration
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sunken eyes
  • Little or no urine or bloody urine
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty seeing or speaking

What are the causes of food poisoning?

The causative factor behind food poisoning is not known in 4 out of 5 cases. However, when the cause is detected, it is usually one of these:

  • Norovirus, commonly known as a stomach virus, is the primary cause of food poisoning. The person gets infected with this virus by consuming contaminated foods, touching infected surfaces and infected persons. It takes 12-48 hours to see the signs and symptoms which then last for the next 1-3 days.
  • Salmonella can also cause food poisoning. It develops in undercooked meat & eggs. It may also be found in unpasteurized milk, cheese, melon as well as sprouts. Symptoms start after 1-3 days and last for up to a week.
  • Clostridium perfringens is found in places where food is prepared in large quantities, for example, nursing homes and cafeteria. This is because bacteria can grow in the leftover food. Typical signs are cramps and diarrhea. It takes 6-24 hours to feel these symptoms, however the patient may even feel better in a couple of days.
  • Campylobacter is present in unpasteurized milk, uncooked poultry and also in water. It takes 2-5 days to develop symptoms and in another 2-10 days the patient recovers but when it’s serious you may have bloody diarrhea.
  • E.coli is found in any food or liquid which comes in contact with animal feces. It is present in uncooked meat, unpasteurized milk and sprouts.
  • Listeria is present in smoked fish, raw cheeses, ice cream, hot dogs and deli meats. Symptoms may be diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, confusion and a stiff neck.


Acute diarrhea may be indicative of campylobacter. Ingestion of infected water, milk or food may transmit campylobacter. Contact with infected animals may spread it as well. It may be serious if you are immunocompromised. Rarely additional complications may be there as well like nervous system problems and reactive arthritis. These problems usually start when the diarrhea stops. Check with your doctor if you might have been affected by a campylobacter infection. Stool diagnosis can show the presence of bacteria. If an infection is found, recovery starts without treatment and the symptoms start going away within 5 days. Drink a lot of liquids to prevent dehydration. Antibiotics can be taken (like erythromycin) at the onset of the infection for reducing the duration of sickness.


Salmonella infection might lead to reactive arthritis in some people. Most recover completely after a salmonella infection, even though the recovery period may be of a few months. Urinating pain, joint pain and eye irritation are all symptoms. The pain in joints might turn into arthritis. Rarely can salmonella be fatal. Fatality chances are higher in the elderly, infants and those who are immunocompromised.


Feces are generally responsible for the spread of shigella, which is a bacteria. It leads to dysentery, an intestinal infection that results in severe diarrhea. It generally is a tropical disease and is more common in crowded places where interpersonal and personal hygiene suffers. Consult your doctor if you think that there has been a shigella exposure. The stools can be tested to check for the presence of this bacteria. There isn’t necessity for specialized treatment in mild cases of shigella infection. Drinking a lot of fluids is required to avoid dehydration. Antibiotics and preventive steps for dehydration might be needed in severe cases. Infected stools may transmit the bacteria to other people if hygiene is poor. Washing hands thoroughly is necessary after changing diapers or using the washroom to restrict spreading the bacteria.

How to diagnose Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is usually diagnosed on the basis of medical history, which includes the time duration for which the patient is experiencing symptoms and specific foods he/she has eaten. A doctor can also conduct a physical examination, to study the signs of dehydration. After this, a doctor may refer to some diagnostic tests, such as a blood or stool test to determine the root cause of food poisoning.


What is the treatment of food poisoning?

Treatment of food poisoning is dependent on the origin of infection. It includes:

  • Replacing lost fluids:This is done by giving intravenous fluids to balance the lost fluids and electrolytes. It helps in managing dehydration caused by recurrent episodes of diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Antibiotics: These are prescribed if the food poisoning is bacteria-induced or when the symptoms are very severe. For example, in listeriosis food poisoning, intravenous antibiotics are given after hospitalization.
  • During pregnancy, prompt treatment with antibiotics keeps the baby from being infected.
  • Viral food poisoning does not cure from antibiotics, rather it can worsen.
  • If the diarrhea is not bloody and the patient is afebrile, he may benefit from medications like loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate.

What is the best medicine for food poisoning?

The best medicine for the treatment of food poisoning is an oral rehydration solution (ORS). In food poisoning, there is a loss of water and fluid from the body which leads to dehydration. Thus, ORS solution helps in restoring the lost fluids in the body. If the patient suffers from extreme dehydration, he/she should be administered with saline water and glucose at the health care center.

Antidiarrheal medicines like loperamide, Imotil, bismuth subsalicylate are also given to patients. Those who suffer from vomiting and nausea are given anti-vomiting drugs such as chlorpromazine and metoclopramide.

The doctors may also prescribe antibiotics for the treatment against bacterial or viral infection if food poisoning is intense. Probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus are also given to restore the balance of good bacteria in the intestine.

What are the best home remedies for food poisoning?

A person who has food poisoning usually recovers on its own after 48 hours of being symptomatic. In order to feel well and prevent dehydration during the recovery period, one has to take the following steps:

  • Give the stomach some rest by limiting eating and drinking for a couple of hours.
  • Taking small sips of water regularly or any liquid in order to ensure that a person stays hydrated.
  • Limiting dairy products, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol and fatty foods.
  • Rest as much as possible to combat illness and dehydration.


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Written ByDr. Pankaj Verma ACLS,POST GRADUATE COURSE IN RHEUMATOLOGY,Fellowship in Diabetes,MBBS,Post Graduate Course In Rheumatology,MD - Medicine,Masters in Psychotherapy and CounsellingInternal Medicine
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