Bacterial gastroenteritis

Definition

Bacterial gastroenteritis occurs when there is an infection of your stomach and intestines. This is due to bacteria.

Alternative Names

Infectious diarrhea - bacterial gastroenteritis; Acute gastroenteritis; Gastroenteritis - bacterial

Causes

Bacterial gastroenteritis can affect one person or a group of people who all ate the same food. It is commonly called food poisoning. It often occurs after eating at picnics, school cafeterias, large social gatherings, or restaurants.

Your food may get infected in many ways:

Food poisoning often occurs from eating or drinking:

Many different types of bacteria can cause bacterial gastroenteritis, including:

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the type of bacteria that caused the sickness. All types of food poisoning cause diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will examine you for signs of food poisoning. These may include pain in the stomach and signs your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should (dehydration).

Lab tests may be done on the food or a stool sample to find out what germ is causing your symptoms. However, these tests do not always show the cause of the diarrhea.

Tests may also be done to look for white blood cells in the stool. This is a sign of infection.

Treatment

You will most likely recover from the most common types of bacterial gastroenteritis in a couple of days. The goal is to make you feel better and avoid dehydration.

Drinking enough fluids and learning what to eat will help ease symptoms. You may need to:

If you have diarrhea and are unable to drink or keep down fluids because of nausea or vomiting, you may need fluids through a vein (IV). Young children may be at extra risk of getting dehydrated.

If you take diuretics ("water pills"), or ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure, talk to your provider. You may need to stop taking these medicines while you have diarrhea. Never stop or change your medicines without first talking to your provider.

Antibiotics are not given very often for most common types of bacterial gastroenteritis. If diarrhea is very severe or you have a weak immune system, antibiotics may be needed.

You can buy medicines at the drugstore that can help stop or slow diarrhea. Do not use these medicines without talking to your provider if you have:

Do not give these medicines to children.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most people get better in a few days without treatment.

Certain rare types of E coli can cause:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your provider if you have:

Also contact your provider if:

Prevention

Take precautions to prevent food poisoning.

References

Kotloff KL. Acute gastroenteritis in children. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 366.

Nguyen T, Akhtar S. Gastroenteritis. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 84.

Schiller LR, Sellin JH. Diarrhea. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 16.

Wong KK, Griffin PM. Foodborne disease. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 101.


Review Date: 10/25/2021
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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