Food Poisoning Symptoms - Should you Call a Doctor?

You ate, now you are feeling queasy or worse. You’re not hung-over and you don’t have flu symptoms, so what is the problem? It could very well be food poisoning.

food poisoning symptoms

Okay you cooked, you ate, you celebrated one or another holiday. Now you’re feeling queasy. You’re not hung-over, right? You don’t have flu symptoms, so what is the problem? It could very well be food poisoning. If you have food poisoning symptoms should you call a doctor?

This quick description of Food Poisoning is very well written by Kathleen Doheny of WebMD:

What Is Food Poisoning?

”Food poisoning is a non-medical term,” says Jay Solnick, MD, professor of medicine and an infectious disease specialist at the University of California Davis School of Medicine. But it typically means bacteria in the food made you sick.

  • A range of organisms and toxins can cause food poisoning, including Campylobacter, Salmonella,Shigella, E. coli 0157: H7, Listeria, and botulism.
  • Certain foods are considered “high risk” for food poisoning, says David Burkhart, MD, staff physician at the Indiana University Health Center in Bloomington, who has published a scientific article on the topic.
  • High-risk foods include: dairy products, raw seafood, raw eggs, lunchmeat, undercooked meat, and poultry. “Those are some of the major foods that oftentimes will be contaminated,” Burkhart says.
  • Symptoms of food poisoning vary, but typically include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Fever can occur, too. The severity of symptoms, as well as the symptoms themselves, varies.
  • Some people have fever, others don’t, Solnick says. Abdominal pain can be mild or severe

For more detailed information I’ve gone straight to the best source, the Center for Disease Control website to see what it could tell me about symptoms of food poisoning. Here is a segment from the Q&A section ( that describes what happens in the body after the microbes that produce illness are swallowed.

  • After the microbes are swallowed, there is a delay, called the incubation period, before the symptoms of illness begin. This delay may range from hours to days, depending on the organism, and on how many of them were swallowed.
  • During the incubation period, the microbes pass through the stomach into the intestine, attach to the cells lining the intestinal walls, and begin to multiply there.
  • Some types of microbes stay in the intestine, some produce a toxin that is absorbed into the bloodstream, and some can directly invade the deeper body tissues. The symptoms produced depend greatly on the type of microbe.
  • Numerous organisms cause similar symptoms, especially diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and nausea. There is so much overlap that it is rarely possible to say which microbe is likely to be causing a given illness unless laboratory tests are done to identify the microbe, or unless the illness is part of a recognized outbreak.

Food Poisoning Symptoms

Here is the same information about food poisoning symptoms in regular language from WebMD.

  • The symptoms of food poisoning usually affect your stomach and intestines (gastrointestinal tract).
  • The first symptom is usually diarrhea.
  • Other symptoms include feeling sick to your stomach (nausea), vomiting, and abdominal (belly) cramps.
  • The time it takes for symptoms to appear, how severe the symptoms are, and how long the symptoms last depend on the infecting organism, your age, and your overall health.
  • The very young and the very old may be most affected by food poisoning. Their symptoms may last longer, and even the types of food poisoning that are typically mild can be life-threatening. This may also be true for pregnant women and people with impaired immune systems, such as those who have long-lasting (chronic) illnesses.
  • Not all food poisoning results in diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. Some types of food poisoning have different or more severe symptoms. These can include weakness, numbness, confusion, or tingling of the face, hands, and feet.
  • You may become ill with food poisoning after you eat food that contains bacteria, viruses, or other harmful organisms. Most cases of food poisoning follow the same general course.
  • After you eat a contaminated food, there is an hours-to-days delay before you notice symptoms. The contaminating organism passes through the stomach into the intestine, attaches to the intestinal walls, and begins to multiply. Some organisms stay in the intestine, some produce a toxin that is absorbed into the bloodstream, and others directly invade body tissues. Your symptoms depend greatly on the type of organism that has infected you.
  • Different organisms cause similar symptoms, especially diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Diarrhea and vomiting are a normal response as the body tries to rid itself of harmful organisms. Unless the illness is part of a recognized outbreak, it is difficult to identify the infecting organism and laboratory tests are usually not done.
  • In most cases, you recover in a few days to a week as toxins are flushed from your system. You may feel weak for several days after other symptoms go away.
  • Most of the time food poisoning is mild and passes in a few days. But the symptoms and course of some types of food poisoning may be more severe.

Severe Food Poisoning Symptoms

From WebMD (adapted from CDC info) I have created this symptoms bullet list below. If you have symptoms of dehydration such as

•    Little or no urine
•    Sunken eyes
•    No tears
•    Dry mouth and Tongue
•    Fast breathing and heartbeat
•    Feeling very dizzy or lightheaded
•    Not feeling or acting alert

Or these specific symptoms of Botulism then call 911.
•    Blurred or double vision
•    Trouble swallowing or breathing
•    Muscle weakness
Then you need to call 911 right away!
After reading this you might be thinking that you have a touch of food poisoning, but you don’t feel bad enough to go to the hospital. But you need to do something. If you feel pretty bad but are afraid to go to the Emergency Room, then at least call a doctor or a nurse or some professional who may be able to tell you the best course of action for your symptoms. This is what the CDC has to say about that.

When should I consult my doctor about a diarrheal illness?
A health care provider should be consulted for a diarrheal illness is accompanied by:

  • High fever (temperature over 101.5 F, measured orally)
  • Blood in the stools
  • Prolonged vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration)
  • Signs of dehydration, including a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up.
  • Diarrheal illness that lasts more than 3 days

Do not be surprised if your doctor does not prescribe an antibiotic.

If your symptoms are pretty mild and you feel you can deal with your food poisoning symptoms yourself, please read my next post called called How to Treat Food Poisoning at Home.

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Julia has been practicing green cleaning for several years as the owner of As You Like It Home Cleaning and organic gardening for almost 20 years running Julia Houriet Custom Gardening. She studied landscape design at Radcliffe Seminars in Cambridge Massachusetts. Her expertise is gleaned from education and years of experience.

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