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Bad sushi or upset stomach? Five food poisoning symptoms to watch for

Updated: Jun 6

Updated: June 2024

You wake up at 4 in the morning sweating, feeling nauseous, with horrible stomach cramps. You are doubled over in pain - what is happening?

Millions of Americans feel this exact same way every year. Why? Food poisoning. 48 million Americans get food poisoning every year, and of those, 128,000 of those are hospitalized. Food poisoning, while common, is a very serious topic. In most cases, people feel very sick for a few days and eventually feel better on their own. Other, more serious cases, can require antibiotics or even hospitalization.

Is it food poisoning or a stomach bug?

Many people wonder if they are feeling a stomach bug or food poisoning. The main differences are how a person comes down with it, how long it lasts, and the severity of the sickness.

While both a stomach bug and food poisoning can be serious, food poisoning generally has harsher symptoms and shows up faster than the stomach bug. In most cases, food poisoning doesn’t last as long as the stomach bug. A good rule of thumb: if it is possible that you ate something that wasn’t prepared correctly, this could be a significant indicator of food poisoning.

On the other hand, a stomach bug is a virus, so coming into contact with anyone who has it means you could get it. Also, because it is a virus, antibiotics won’t cure it.

The important thing to understand when trying to tell the difference between a stomach bug and food poisoning is the severity and duration of your symptoms.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

So, if food poisoning isn’t always avoidable, what can you do if you get it? It is essential to recognize the symptoms as soon as possible.

While most people know the common symptoms, such as vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and mild fevers, some symptoms could be signs you might require a doctor. Symptoms of food poisoning include:

  1. Blood in your stool or urine

  2. Frequent vomiting leading to severe dehydration

  3. A fever with a temperature of over 102 degrees

  4. Blurred vision

  5. Muscle weakness or tingling sensations

Experiencing these symptoms are signs of much more serious cases of food poisoning and can lead to harsher long term side effects if not taken care of.

How Do I Prevent Food Poisoning?

The first step in preventing food poisoning is to make sure all food is cooked and stored per CDC guidelines. Eating contaminated food such as expired dairy products or bacteria-infested deli meats is how you'd get food poisoning after all. You can avoid food poisoning in your kitchen by following these four rules: cleaning your hands and surfaces, separating food, cooking at the right temperature, and refrigerating properly.

Many of the food poisoning guidelines are common sense.

Don’t eat cold pizza left out from the night before. Don’t use the same knife to cut up squash that you used to cut up raw chicken. When grilling out, use a meat thermometer to ensure it’s cooked to recommended levels.

Use good food handling and storage common sense

So, by now, you recognize the signs of food poisoning and have learned you have some control over avoiding it. I’ll tell you this: people who have had food poisoning say never forget the incident. Always ensure you're safe and clean when preparing food. Don't eat a chicken nugget if you drop it on the floor, and put your pizza in the fridge at night if you want it cold the following day!

Is Food Poisoning Contagious?

When people think of the term "contagious," they commonly think of passing a disease from person to person, such as a cold. Food poisoning isn't directly contagious in that way, but it can spread through contaminated food, water, or surfaces. Bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli and viruses like norovirus can cause food poisoning if ingested. These pathogens can be transferred to food if proper hygiene practices aren't followed, such as washing hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or handling raw meat.

When contaminated food is consumed, multiple people can become ill. While the illness itself doesn't pass from person to person, the bacteria or viruses responsible can spread through the consumption of contaminated food or contact with contaminated surfaces. Practicing effective prevention measures, such as good food handling and hygiene habits, is important.

How to Treat Food Poisoning

Treating food poisoning typically involves supportive care to relieve symptoms and prevent dehydration. We'll get into the foods and drinks you should consume in a little bit. First, let’s talk about the medical options you have available.

What Medications Help With Food Poisoning?

Over-the-counter medications like loperamide for diarrhea or dimenhydrinate for nausea can relieve food poisoning. Still, they should be used cautiously and under medical guidance, especially with certain types of food poisoning. For instance, in cases involving bacterial toxins or contaminated shellfish, their use can be problematic and delay necessary medical intervention.

If symptoms persist for more than a few days, or if there are signs of dehydration, such as decreased urination or dizziness, it's essential to seek medical attention quickly. Antibiotics may sometimes be necessary to treat bacterial infections causing food poisoning.

What to Eat After Food Poisoning

Beyond medication, the initial focus of treatment for food poisoning involves staying hydrated by consuming ample fluids such as water, broth, or sports drinks to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes due to vomiting and diarrhea. It's essential to abstain from solid foods until symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea have subsided.

Once these symptoms have improved, gradually reintroduce bland, easily digestible foods such as rice, bananas, toast, and applesauce into the diet. These foods help provide essential nutrients without exacerbating gastrointestinal distress, aiding recovery and promoting digestive comfort.

How Long Does Food Poisoning Last?

How long food poisoning lasts varies depending on the pathogen and individual health. Symptoms usually appear within hours to days after consuming contaminated food and can last from hours to several days, with mild cases resolving in about 24 hours with care.

However, severe cases could persist longer, posing life-threatening risks, especially for those with weakened immune systems or at higher risk. Monitoring symptoms closely is essential; if they worsen or last an extended period, seeking medical help is crucial to prevent dehydration and complications. During this time, it's advisable to stay home and rest during recovery to avoid spreading the illness.

Can Urgent Care Treat Food Poisoning?

Yes, urgent care centers can often treat mild to moderate cases of food poisoning. They can provide evaluation, symptom management, and supportive care, such as intravenous fluids for dehydration if needed.

However, in severe cases or if complications arise, such as persistent vomiting, severe dehydration, or signs of systemic illness, it's essential to seek care at an emergency department or hospital where more extensive medical resources are available.

Suspect you have food poisoning in Tuscaloosa AL? We got you at Crimson Care in Tuscaloosa, AL.

Dr. Ramesh Peramsetty -- along with his entire Crimson Care team -- are available as primary care physicians or stop-in clinic help--or both! We offer three Tuscaloosa locations: Crimson Care Skyland, Veterans Memorial, and First Care on McFarland. All of our locations offer extended weekday hours and one-stop treatment services, including medical care, x-rays, lab work, and prescription dispensing. Crimson Care also provides digital access to your electronic medical records via our online patient portal. Request prescription refills, complete any necessary patient forms online, review your medical records at any time, and even pay your bill.

Check us out today on our website, or give us a call today at Crimson Care Veterans: (205) 507-1100, Crimson Care Skyland: (205) 507-1119, or First Care: (205) 349-2323.


1 Comment

Tele Peds
Tele Peds
Jun 13, 2022

Your child can get food poisoning when bacteria infect them via the food they eat. Staphylococcus aureus is a prime example, where they may ingest food left out at room temperature for too long, making them vulnerable to enterotoxins. They become susceptible to a long night and painful day of vomiting, watery diarrhea, and either no fever or a low-grade fever. These symptoms should disappear after 12-24 hours.

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