As anyone who's had a bad case of food poisoning can testify, it is an experience so thoroughly awful that you wouldn't wish it upon your worst enemy. Not only does everything you've eaten for the last 24 hours seem to want to escape out of both ends of your body simultaneously, but the cramps and pain you experience can make you want to crawl into a hole and die.
The good news is that food poisoning is rarely life-threatening. In most cases, it will pass within 24 hours, leaving you as good as new. The bad news is that once it's started, there's no real way to put the brakes on it until it has run its course.
The following tips, however, may help minimize your discomfort and shorten the duration of your symptoms.
Replace your body's fluids.
If your stomach will tolerate it, be sure to keep taking liquids, especially if you have diarrhea, says Zachary T. Bloom-garden, M.D., an internist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Sometimes people feel that if they drink more, they'll throw up more or have more diarrhea, he says. However, these illnesses require acute hydration. Even if you do have a little more diarrhea, you'll still be ahead of the game if you've been drinking more. Also, you feel worse if you are dehydrated. He recommends gelatin, decaffeinated soda, decaffeinated tea with sugar, or water.
Avoid rich or spicy foods.
When your stomach is feeling irritated, eating fatty or highly seasoned foods may send you right back to the toilet bowl, says John C. Johnson, M.D., past president of the American College of Emergency Physicians and director of the Emergency Department of Porter Memorial Hospital in Valparaiso, Indiana. If you feel hungry, it's probably best to stick with clear liquids, plain toast, mashed potatoes, bananas, or other bland foods.
Go with the flowliterally.
If you've been poisoned by contaminated food and your stomach is reacting by having diarrhea or vomiting, you can trust your body's impulses, according to Johnson. Don't run out and buy antidiarrheal medications, he says. If there's something in your system, you may feel better sooner if you let it out. The same goes for vomiting wait a while before you take anything orally. Your stomach doesn't want anything more down there. If you give it a chance to rest, it will usually take care of itself
Be careful with pain medications.
Some people make the mistake of taking prescription or over-the-counter pain medications to reduce the discomfort of intestinal cramps, says Johnson. The side effect of many of these drugs is to irritate the stomach or gastrointestinal tract, he says. The one exception is acetaminophen, says David Posner, M.D., a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Drugs containing aspirin or ibuprofen are definitely out when your stomach is irritated.
What's your poison?
If you have symptoms of food poisoning, try to work out when you ate a suspect meal as this can help to determine which bacteria are responsible. If fever devel ops or the symptoms persist for more than a couple of days, consult your doctor. BACTERIA SYMPTOMS
Found in cooked rice which has been kept warm or inadequately reheated: cooked rice should be kept very hot, or cooled quickly and refrigerated. Severe vomiting within I hour of eating rice, or diarrhea later. Recovery is rapid.
Usually due to cross contamination, such as blood from raw poultry dripping onto cooked foods or salad. Fever, abdominal pain and nausea followed by bloody diarrhea; symptoms appear within 2-6 days and last 1-10 days.
CLOSTRIDIUM BOTULINUM (BOTULISM)
A very rare and deadly form of poisoning found in inadequately sterilized tinned or bottled vegetables, meats or fish. Within 18-36 hours, it causes slurred speech, difficulty in swallowing, blurred vision, paralysis and respiratory failure.
This bacterium is associated with warm meat, gravy and stuffings; typically, a casserole or saucepan of mince sitting over a low heat, or in a warm room. Abdominal cramps, diarrhea and headache; occasionally vomiting and fever too. Incubation from 6-12 hours; normally a full recovery is made after 24 hours.
ESCHERICHIA COLI (E. COLI)
A severe form of poisoning found in poorly cooked beef burgers and other minced products, associated with poor kitchen hygiene in fast-food outlets. Vomiting and severe diarrhea which is often bloody; symptoms occur within 12- 72 hours, and last for up to 10 days; patients often require hospitalization.
Lives undetected, causing no problems, in the intestines of many people and animals. Mainly found in soft cheeses, and can reproduce at refrigerator temperatures. Sudden flu like symptoms, anything from 4 hours to several days after ingestion. Can damage the fetus. Also very serious in babies, the elderly and the sick.
Usual sources are raw or lightly cooked eggs, undercooked poultry and also cooked foods or salads which have been left unrefrigerated for several hours Nausea, abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and diarrhea; within 8-36 hours. A common food borne infection; major out breaks can involve thousands of people.
Many people carry staphylococci bacteria, and can easily transfer them to foods. Common culprits are ham, poultry and cream or custard filled baked goods Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea within a few minutes to 6 hours; occasionally chills, weakness and dizziness
Prevention Is the Best Medicine
The best way to treat food poisoning is to avoid getting it in the first place. Although you can't control the conditions in the restaurants you patronize, you can take several precautions in your own home, say John C. Johnson, M.D., and David Posner, M.D.
Mixed foods, such as potato salads, creamy cokslaws, and other foods containing dairy products, are likely to breed bacteria, especially if they are not kept well refrigerated or if they get warm and are later refrigerated, Johnson says. Summer picnics are notorious for such conditions, he adds.
Another problem arises at holiday times when people tend to thaw and stuff turkeys or roasts hours before guests arrive, leaving them out of the refrigerator for long periods of time, according to Johnson.
Make sure that perishables are kept cold, Posner says. Cook chicken, pork, and beef very thoroughly, and wash hands and utensils in very hot water and soap after using them to cut meat.
Try a hot-water bottle.
One thing that may help cramps is a hot-water bottle placed on the stomach, according to Posner. Make sure it's not too hot to the touch, he cautions.
Treat it like the stomach flu.
Just like with the stomach flu, there's really not a whole lot you can do, except to be good to yourself and wait it out, says Bloomgarden. Cancel your appointments, rest, take it easy, and take solace in the fact that it's guaranteed to pass, most likely within 24 hours.
Replace your potassium.
Vomiting and diarrhea may lead to a depletion in your body's supply of potassium, which may leave you feeling even worse, according to Johnson. Twenty-four hours after your symptoms started (and hopefully when you're feeling a bit better), a sports drink or a banana may perk you up, he says.
Report it to the health department.
If you were the only person affected by food that may have been contaminated, reporting your condition may not be necessary, according to Posner. However, if you were one of a group of people who ate at a restaurant or other food establishment and more than one of you became ill, tell the restaurant, your physician, or your local health department, he says. If it turns out to be an infection, such as dysentery, the health department may want to track it down the possible culprits, he adds.