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Food Poisoning  

Introduction
Each year more than 76 million cases of food poisoning occur in the United States.  Food poisoning occurs when contaminated food is eaten.  There are many types of germs that can cause food poisoning.  The majority of people with food poisoning recover in a few days with home treatment.  Some people require emergency room treatment or hospitalization, and still others do not survive.  Following guidelines for food preparation and storage can prevent food poisoning.  Outbreaks of food poisoning should be reported to the local health department.

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Anatomy
Whenever you eat or drink, food travels through your digestive system for processing.  Your body absorbs nutrients and removes waste products via your digestive system.  When you swallow, the food moves into the opening of the esophagus.  Your esophagus is a tube that moves food from your throat to your stomach.

Your stomach produces acids to break down food for digestion.  Your stomach processes the food into a liquid form.  The processed liquid travels from your stomach to your small intestine.  The liquid solidifies as it moves through the large intestine, forming a stool.  The stool is eliminated from your body when you have a bowel movement.

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Causes

Eating contaminated foods causes food poisoning.  Bacteria, viruses, and parasites are germs that commonly cause food poisoning.  Such germs can contaminate food when it is being prepared or handled. 

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Symptoms
Food poisoning can cause symptoms within several hours or several days, depending on the contaminant.  Symptoms of food poisoning can vary from person to person and can include:  nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and stomach pain.  You may also experience loss of appetite, fever, chills, weakness, and feeling tired.  Food poisoning symptoms typically last from one to 10 days.

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Diagnosis

A doctor can diagnose food poisoning by reviewing your medical history, conducting a physical examination, and viewing the results of tests.  You should provide your doctor with a list of all of the foods and beverages that you have consumed recently.  Blood, stool, or vomit may be tested to identify the type of germ that caused the food poisoning.  Leftover food may be tested as well.

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Treatment
The type of treatment that you receive depends on the type of germ that caused your food poisoning.  Common types of food poisoning are not treated with medication, but instead treatment is focused on preventing dehydration.  You should drink plenty of fluids (except for milk and caffeinated drinks) to rehydrate yourself.  Over-the-counter electrolyte replacement drinks may be recommended for children.  If you are unable to tolerate drinking liquids, your doctor may order IV (intravenous) fluid hydration.  The majority of people with common types of food poisoning recover in a few days.

Some types of food poisoning are more serious than others and require emergency medical attention.  For example, food poisoning from shellfish or mushrooms requires emergency department treatment to empty the stomach.  Additionally, antibiotic medicine may be used to treat severe forms and certain types of food poisoning.

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Prevention

You may prevent food poisoning by carefully following instructions for preparing, storing, refrigerating, canning, freezing, defrosting, and cooking foods.  Throw away food or beverages that do not appear to be fresh.  Clean countertops, food prep areas, and dining ware.  Practice good hand washing. 

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Am I at Risk
The impact that contaminants have on the body differs from person to person and depends on several variables. 

Such factors include:
• the overall health of the person
• age of the person
• how much of the contaminant was consumed
• the type of contaminant

Those at the highest risk include:
• Older adults
• Pregnant women
• Infants and children 
• People with compromised immune systems, such as people with diabetes, AIDS, and liver disease, as well as those receiving radiation or chemotherapy for cancer
• People that travel outside of the United States in areas where sanitation is compromised.

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Complications
Dehydration is a primary concern of food poisoning.  You should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.  Symptoms of dehydration include feeling extremely thirsty, producing only small amounts of urine, severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness.  You should contact your doctor if you become dehydrated.

You should also call your doctor if you have diarrhea that lasts more than three days, blood in your stool, or a temperature greater than 101° F.  You should call you doctor if you vomit blood.

Call 911 for emergency medical treatment if you have trouble breathing or swallowing, a racing or pounding heart, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, double vision, fainting, dizziness, paralysis, or excessive blood in your stool. 

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.