Patient's Complete Guide to Food Poisoning

Overview of Food Poisoning

Food Poisoning also known as دَستوں کے ساتھ یا دَستوں کے بَغَیر قے یا مَتلی کا ہونا can be caused by consuming contaminated food. Food is usually contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or their toxins. It is also known as a foodborne illness. Food can be contaminated at any point during production or processing. Food poisoning symptoms are usually mild and go away without treatment. But some people need hospital treatment. The most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Signs and Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Symptoms of food poisoning depend on the source of contamination. Some of the common signs and symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • Nausea
  • Watery or bloody diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Fever

Signs and symptoms usually appear within hours after consuming the contaminated food or take days or even weeks. Food poisoning symptoms usually last from a few hours to several days.

Causes of Food Poisoning

Food can be contaminated at any point of production such as: 

  • Growing
  • Harvesting 
  • Processing
  • Storing
  • Shipping 
  • Preparing

Cross-contamination is the main cause of food contamination, in which the harmful organisms are transferred from the surface to food. This is particularly troublesome for ready-to-eat foods, such as salads and other food products. These foods contain harmful bacteria, parasites and toxins that can cause food poisoning.

Some of the common pathogens (harmful microorganisms) are listed below which can cause food poisoning.

Risk Factors of Food Poisoning

The severity of food poisoning depends on the organism, the amount of exposure, age and health. The high-risk group include:

  • Pregnant Women: During pregnancy, women’s metabolism and circulation are changed which can increase the risk of food poisoning. During pregnancy, the reaction can become more severe.
  • Older Adults: In older adults, the immune system becomes weak therefore may not fight off infections effectively. 
  • Infants and young children can easily infect because their immune system is not fully developed.
  • Chronic Disease: People with chronic diseases such as diabetes or liver damage can easily be affected because their immune system is suppressed.

Health-Related Complications of Food Poisoning

Dehydration is the most common and serious complication of food poisoning. In this condition, there is a severe loss of water and essential electrolytes due to vomiting and diarrhoea. In a healthy person, this loss can be recovered by drinking plenty of fluids.

Infants, older adults and people develop chronic illnesses due to dehydration. In this case, they may need hospital treatment especially IV fluids to overcome dehydration.

Some types of food poisoning can lead to more serious complications such as: 

  • Listeria Infection: Listeria infection complications can be more fatal in unborn babies.  In the early trimester, a listeria infection may cause miscarriage. While in late pregnancy, the infection can cause stillbirth or premature birth. Newborns who survive a listeria infection may suffer from long-term neurological damage and slow development.
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli): E. coli infection can cause a serious complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. This syndrome damages nephrons in the kidneys leading to kidney failure. Risks of this complication are higher in older adults and children below age 5 and people with weakened immune systems.

Prevention

You can prevent food poisoning at home by following ways:

  • Wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces with warm soapy water. 
  • Try to keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Avoid thawing food at room temperature. 
  • Cook foods properly to kill harmful microorganisms.  
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within two hours of purchase or preparation.

Diagnosis

To diagnose food poisoning your doctor may inquire about infection history, symptoms and specific foods you've eaten.

-Physical exam is usually performed to check for the signs of dehydration.

-Diagnostic tests are performed to identify the causative agent of infection. These tests include:

  • Blood test 
  • Stool culture or examination for parasites

Treatment of Food Poisoning | When to Consult a Doctor

Food poisoning needs to be treated when the signs and symptoms appear, if delayed it can worsen the situation. Here is how you can get it treated:

Home Treatment

Food poisoning can be treated at home within 48 hours. You can prevent dehydration and quickly recover by trying the following tips. 

  • Stop eating and drinking immediately after food poisoning.
  • Suck ice chips or drink clear soda. You can also drink ORS to prevent dehydration. 
  • Use Probiotics as per the doctor’s recommendation. 
  • After recovery, eat low-fat and easily digestible food. 
  • Avoid certain products such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and fatty or highly seasoned foods.
  • Rest properly to overcome dehydration and illness.

Treatment of food poisoning depends on the source of infection and the severity of symptoms. In most cases, infection is resolved on its own without any treatment but sometimes, illness becomes fatal and requires hospital treatment.

Food poisoning can be treated by:

  • Replacement of Lost Fluids: Fluids and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and calcium are necessary to maintain the balance of the body. During food poisoning due to vomiting and diarrhoea, these electrolytes are lost. This condition can cause serious problems if not treated properly. Therefore, in-hospital patients can receive these fluids and salts through IV to treat dehydration.
  • Antibiotics: Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics in case of severe bacterial food poisoning. Food poisoning caused by listeria can be treated with IV antibiotics during hospitalization. During pregnancy, immediate treatment is recommended to prevent the effect of infection on the newborn. 

However, antibiotics are not helpful if the infection is caused by viruses. If antibiotics make the condition worse, seek immediate medical care.  

Seek medical care as soon as possible if you experience the following signs or symptoms:

  • Frequent vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea for more than three days
  • Bloody vomit or stools
  • Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
  • An oral temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
  • Neurological symptoms such as blurry vision
  • Signs or symptoms of dehydration
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