Understanding Food Poisoning -- Diagnosis and Treatment

How Do I Know If I Have Food Poisoning?

Most cases of food poisoning are mild, lasting from one to three days. Since many people do not seek medical care, their food poisoning is not diagnosed.

Though your symptoms may sound suspicious, the only way to know for sure if you have food poisoning is to test the offending food or check the stool, blood, or vomit.

Chemical or toxin food poisoning can usually be diagnosed by a description of symptoms and by testing food potentially responsible for the poisoning.

What Are the Treatments for Food Poisoning?

Vomiting and diarrhea are the body's way of flushing poison out of your system, so don't take any over the counter medicine to treat these symptoms unless instructed by your doctor. Once you can keep fluid in your stomach, start drinking clear liquids. Then avoid greasy foods, caffeine, and sweets as you start to advance your diet if you still have diarrhea. Some people may also have trouble digesting milk products at first after having diarrhea.

Because repeated vomiting or diarrhea can remove large amounts of fluid from your system, dehydration is a potentially dangerous complication, especially in children and older adults. Lost fluids must be replaced promptly and completely. If you cannot keep liquids down, call your doctor. Intravenous fluid replacement may be necessary.

Medications for Food Poisoning

If symptoms are severe or persistent, your doctor may recommend or prescribe medication to control diarrhea or vomiting until the condition is under control. Infants, children, elderly people, and anyone with diabetes or other chronic conditions should be closely monitored for dehydration and other potential complications. Antibiotics may be prescribed for some types of food poisoning.

If botulism is suspected, you will be hospitalized immediately. Although botulism can lead to respiratory failure and even death, prompt treatment greatly increases the chance for full recovery.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on March 03, 2015



Kliegman, R. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th Edition. Saunders, 2011.

National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse: "Diarrhea."

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