What the Yuck: Just food poisoning?
October 14th, 2011
01:10 PM ET

What the Yuck: Just food poisoning?

Too embarrassed to ask your doctor about sex, body quirks, or the latest celeb health fad? In a regular feature and a new book, "What the Yuck?!," Health magazine medical editor Dr. Roshini Raj tackles your most personal and provocative questions. Send 'em to Dr. Raj at whattheyuck@health.com.

Q: Every time I hear about a deadly Listeria outbreak, I wonder: How do I tell the difference between harmless food poisoning and the life-threatening kind?

While a bout of food poisoning totally sucks, most of the time the vomiting, diarrhea, aches and fever will go away on their own in a couple of days.

But in rare situations, a more virulent pathogen - such as certain strains of E. coli bacteria that produce a poison called Shiga toxin - can lead to severe, life-threatening dehydration or kidney failure.

If you have diarrhea along with a fever of 101 degrees or higher; if you feel very thirsty, dizzy, or light-headed; or if you have diarrhea that persists for more than three days, see a doctor.

Head straight to the ER if you have a lot of blood in your stool or a pounding or skipping heart, or if you think you got sick from eating poisonous mushrooms, bad shellfish, or a contaminated canned item (toxins from these foods can have especially serious consequences).

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Binky42

    Just go to the doctor anyway. They can give you a shot that takes away the nausea in just a few minutes. Why sit around feeling nauseous for two days when it can be over in minutes?

    October 14, 2011 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • USA Sux

      Unless you live in the USA and have no health insurance, then you will just have to wait it out.

      October 14, 2011 at 18:09 | Report abuse |
    • Freyja

      They can, but they won't. A few years ago I got food poisoning and went to an urgent care clinic. They wouldn't give me anything for either the vomiting or the diarrhea, because they said my body needed to flush everything out and that won't happen if I take meds to stop it. A few weeks later I went to my own doctor for something unrelated, and mentioned that episode to her. She agreed with what the urgent care clinic told me.
      Pretty crappy, if you ask me!

      October 14, 2011 at 20:20 | Report abuse |
    • c s

      Freyja – the doctor was probably right. You can try Kaopectate which works real good in my experience BUT you run the risk that the bacteria that is causing the disease will be retained in your body and come back even stronger. The major problem with diarrhea is dehydration. Drinking plenty of water with some salt and sugar can help. I drink hot tea with some sugar in it. Lick your upper lip and it should be salty. If your salt level drops too much, your blood pressure will drop and you will feel faint.

      October 14, 2011 at 20:38 | Report abuse |
  2. Sandy

    I have had campylobacteriosis, and the answer is that if you have the bad stuff you won't have to wonder if you should see a doctor because you will be so much sicker than you've ever been before. I had 104 degree temps and diarrhea far worse than I could have imagined, and I was dehydrated. There was no question that a doctor was required. My husband had another type of severe food poisoning a few years earlier and immodium simply did not work at all, if you can imagine that. (Neither case was caused by us, btw. Eat out at your own peril.)

    October 15, 2011 at 02:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. BillinSD

    A lot of people don't realize that stomach acid is your natural defense against food poisoning...

    Taking full time acid reducing pills (Proton-pump inhibitors) GREATLY INCREASES your risk of food poisoning.

    It's a dirty world out there. Be careful about shutting off your bodies natural defenses against these bugs.

    October 15, 2011 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Inphinity

    Another type of food poisoning, botulism, starts with double vision, weakness and progresses to top down paralysis and, when the paralysis gets to the respiratory system, you will likely die if emergency care is not received. Because it is so rare, a lot of medical personnel have never treated it or even seen cases, except in textbooks. The CDC is a good resource for information on all types of food poisoning.

    October 15, 2011 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Elizabeth

    If you are concerned, see a doctor. Years ago, my daughter got salmonella (from a fast-food place), which was confirmed through stool samples. She would get better for a few days, then worse again, so she would go to school, then miss school, etc. The doctor gave us a diet to follow, but no antibiotics, because he said that it would only make the condition worse, as the bacteria would become more resistant. Her case was relatively mild: a worse case would need some kind of antibiotics, but that sort of thing must be monitored by a doctor. Once, I also had strep in the stomach (tested); very painful (think strep throat); it is possible to get strep if somebody who has it sneezes on food. That was treated with antibiotics. These things are no fun. If you think that kids don't sneeze on salad bars, think again.

    October 15, 2011 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Martin

    When I was young, about 20 years old, I got severe food poisoning in Mexico after eating some homemade spoiled pork sandwiches because I was so hungry. During the night after eating them, I was up all night vomiting and having diarrhea at the same time. By morning, I knew I needed to get some drugs to cure myself. I was very close to a pharmacy and I don't remember getting there. I somehow made it there and I woke up on the pharmacy floor after the owner gave me a glass of water with pills to cure the food poisoning. I was so weak that the owner had a few employees carry me back to my nearby hotel room. The next thing I remember was waking up 24 hours later and I was totally cured. After eating and drinking a healthy meal, I went back to the pharmacy and profusely thanked the owner for saving my life. In those days in Mexico, you did not need a doctor to get drugs for stuff like that. I never got food poisoning again like that again. I became very careful on what I eat and I still am like that today.

    October 16, 2011 at 11:17 | Report abuse | Reply
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