Bacterial Gastroenteritis

What is bacterial gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It can cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe. A virus, bacterium, or parasite can cause gastroenteritis. When it’s caused by a type of bacteria, it’s called bacterial gastroenteritis.

Gastroenteritis is very common. Bacterial gastroenteritis is less common than viral gastroenteritis. But it’s still a major health risk. This is because you can get dehydrated from vomiting or diarrhea.

What causes bacterial gastroenteritis?

The more common types of bacteria that can cause gastroenteritis include:

  • E. coli
  • Salmonella
  • Campylobacter
  • Shigella

What are the symptoms of bacterial gastroenteritis?

Symptoms can range from mild pain to life-threatening. Each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever (sometimes very high)
  • Belly (abdominal) cramping and pain
  • Diarrhea, possibly bloody
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance

These symptoms can happen with all forms of gastroenteritis (both viral and bacterial). High fever and bloody diarrhea are more common with bacterial gastroenteritis. Untreated severe bacterial gastroenteritis can lead to severe dehydration, nerve problems, kidney failure, and even death.

The symptoms of bacterial gastroenteritis may look like other health problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is bacterial gastroenteritis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will do an exam and ask about your health history. Your healthcare provider will likely ask for a stool sample to find the source of your illness and whether it’s bacterial or viral. You may need blood tests to find out how severe the illness is.

How is bacterial gastroenteritis treated?

Once a healthcare provider diagnoses your bacterial gastroenteritis, correct treatment often works. Antibiotics can cure some forms of the illness within a few days. You may need other treatment to replace the fluids and electrolytes in your body. It depends upon the severity of your illness. In some cases, you may need IV (intravenous) fluid replacement.

What can I do to prevent bacterial gastroenteritis?

An important way to prevent bacterial gastroenteritis is to practice good hygiene.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly while handling or preparing food.
  • Don’t leave food out too long when you’re serving it. Throw it out if there’s any chance it has gone bad.
  • If you learn of an outbreak of tainted food or drink through a news report, don't have those items.
  • Limit contact with others who have symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Don't eat undercooked food.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If you have any of the symptoms described above and they don’t improve after 1 or 2 days, see your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.

Key points about bacterial gastroenteritis

  • Bacterial gastroenteritis is a digestive problem caused by bacteria.
  • Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, belly cramping, and pain.
  • In severe cases, you may become dehydrated and have an electrolyte imbalance.
  • Bacterial gastroenteritis is sometimes treated with antibiotics.
  • If severe cases are not treated, they can lead to severe dehydration, neurological problems, kidney failure, and even death.
  • Good hygiene is an important way to prevent bacterial gastroenteritis.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your healthcare provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.
Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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