Medical treatment

Cases of food poisoning which do not respond to home based treatment or have worsened/developed complications will require medical attention.

This may take the form of hospital treatment if dehydration has occurred. This is particularly important if a child is involved as dehydration is far more serious for children than adults.

But when should you seek medical advice?

Seek advice if you are concerned about (or notice) any of the following:

  • Persistent vomiting over several days
  • Blood in your vomit or diarrhoea
  • Severe abdominal pain/cramps
  • Dehydration
  • Persistent raised temperature/high fever
  • Your symptoms appear to be getting worse

Also seek advice if you are pregnant; think you may have food poisoning from eating a takeaway or via a restaurant; have a weak immune system or have recently been abroad.

If you are the parent of a child with suspected food poisoning then contact your GP. If you want to know more then there are separate sections within this guide which deal with food poisoning in children. This includes babies and teenagers as well.

GP treatment for food poisoning

Your GP will ask you about your symptoms, and what foods you have eaten. He/she will also ask you if you have eaten food from a café, restaurant or fast food outlet, and if so, when.

If you have been on holiday recently or have travelled for business reasons then mention this to him/her.

If your food poisoning is caused by bacteria then antibiotics may be prescribed. These are usually given as tablets; although you can be given these in the form of an injection if your symptoms are severe or you would be unable to keep any tablets down.

Your GP will also examine you. He or she will take your pulse and temperature and possibly your blood pressure. He or she will ask you to provide a stool sample.

A ‘stool sample’is a common medical procedure which is carried out in order to determine the cause of food poisoning. It can also identify the source of the infection, namely the type of bacteria, virus or parasite which is responsible.

It entails your GP asking you to collect a small sample of your faeces which is then sent away to a laboratory for analysis. The lab will examine the sample under a microscope which enables them to find the cause of your illness.

Hospital treatment

If you are seriously unwell then your GP will recommend that your admittance to hospital. This is likely to happen if you are dehydrated or are the parent of a child who is dehydrated.

You will be given fluids intravenously via a drip. You may also undergo further tests such as blood, urine and blood pressure tests. Lumbar puncture and MRI/CT scans are another option.

This is to see if your food poisoning has spread to other parts of your body. Bacteria, viruses or parasites which cause food poisoning release toxins once they have invaded your body which then spread into the bloodstream. If this happens then they are able to affect any area of the body, for example the brain or nervous system.

This can lead to a range of complications which particularly affect those people who fall into a high risk group. This includes:

  • Children
  • Elderly
  • Pregnant women
  • People with a compromised immune system as a result of a chronic condition such as diabetes; HIV/AIDs; anti-rejection drugs following a transplant or chemotherapy.
  • People who are taking long term steroids or antibiotics
  • People who work with food

If you fall into any of these groups then you are at greater risk of complications due to the fact that your immune system is not as effective at fighting off this infection. Any symptoms you do have are of greater intensity and duration than for someone with a fully functional immune system.

Food Poisoning Guide

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