Foodborne Illness (Food Poisoning)

Foodborne disease occurs when foods aren’t cooked, handled, or stored properly and become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins (poisons). Foodborne disease can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Symptoms may not appear for 24 to 48 hours.

When to go to the emergency room (ER)

Call 911 or your local emergency number if:

  • You have severe symptoms, such as bloody vomit or diarrhea, or symptoms lasting more than 12 hours.

  • Your heart is racing, pounding, or skipping.

  • You are having trouble breathing.

  • You are elderly; have stomach or colon problems, chronic liver disease, or hemochromatosis; or have a suppressed immune system.

  • You suspect botulism. This is a toxin found mainly in home-canned foods. Symptoms often begin within 12 to 36 hours. They include headache, blurred vision, and muscle weakness. Botulism can be fatal. Don’t delay getting help.

  • You have signs of dehydration such as excessive thirst, dizziness, or lightheadedness.

What to expect in the ER

A doctor will ask you about your illness and examine you carefully. Your blood pressure, pulse, breathing rate, and temperature will be checked. A sample of your stool may be tested for bacteria. There are many types of foodborne diseases, so treatment will depend on your symptoms. You’ll likely be given fluids through a vein in your arm. This helps replace water and minerals lost with vomiting and diarrhea. You may be admitted to the hospital if your symptoms are very severe.

If you have a mild foodborne illness

  • Rest and drink plenty of liquids.

  • Avoid solid foods until you feel better.

  • Don’t take antidiarrheal medications unless your doctor tells you to.



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