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Food Poisoning (cont.)

What kind of doctor treats food poisoning?

Although many people require no physician to intervene, a primary care physician often can treat some types of food poisonings. However, more serious types are often treated by a team that may include specialists in infectious diseases, gastroenterology, critical care, and/or toxicology.

When should a person with food poisoning contact a doctor?

In the majority of individuals with mild to moderate symptoms of food poisoning (viral and bacterial), symptoms resolve in about 24 to 48 hours and no specific medical treatment is needed. However, if there are any signs of dehydration (decreased or no urination, dry mouth, increased thirst, dizziness and weakness), blood in the stools, fever, vomiting or diarrhea longer than 72 hours, medical care should be sought. If there is any reason to suspect that a more rare cause of food poisoning is causing symptoms described above, see a doctor.

How is the cause of food poisoning diagnosed?

The diagnosis usually begins with the patient's recent history of eating foods or exposure to contaminated water, travel history, and questions about friends or relatives with similar symptoms. The physical exam will focus on signs of dehydration and abdominal tenderness, while blood tests, if necessary, may be used to help rule out other problems. Stool samples may be useful to detect blood in the stool, culture for pathogens, microscopically examine for parasites and to detect certain toxins. In addition, there are immunological tests for some toxins (for example, Shiga toxin). Depending on the suspected cause, in rare cases biopsy samples may be taken. Definitive diagnosis depends on identification of the pathogen or toxic material found in the individual.

Although tests are available, in mild to moderate cases of viral and most bacterial food poisoning, tests are not usually done because of the expense and the likelihood that symptoms will resolve before the tests are completed.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/13/2015

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