The technical term used in most food poisoning cases is gastroenteritis – an irritation of the stomach and intestines. It’s typically caused by bacteria (such as Salmonella, E. coli, or Campylobacter) or a virus (like norovirus).
Food poisoning could likely be picked up from bacteria in something you ate. But you can also get gastroenteritis from coming in contact with someone who’s infected, or not washing your hands after going to the bathroom. It is sometimes referred to as “stomach flu”, but it has nothing to do with the influenza virus.
The signs of food poisoning can range from very mild (a passing stomachache) to severe (fever and nonstop diarrhea). Depending on which bug you’ve picked up, symptoms start in as little as 8 hours, but you may not start feeling sick for up to 2 weeks. You might have: nausea, abdominal pain, low fever, diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, and bloating.
When you or someone you know suffers from food poisoning, do not take over-the-counter anti-diarrhea drugs without the approval of a doctor. Your body is trying to expel the bugs that are making you sick, and you don’t want to interfere with the natural healing process.
Remember to stay hydrated. You’ll need to replenish all the fluids you’re losing to avoid serious dehydration. Sip electrolyte-rich liquids, like Gatorade, broth, or coconut water. If you’re keeping down fluids, slowly introduce easy-to-digest foods, like the classic BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
If you’re a healthy adult with a solid immune system, most bouts of food poisoning will pass on their own after a couple of days. In general, there’s nothing you can really do to speed the healing. The best thing you can do is rehydrate, rest, and try not to dwell on the meal that did this to you.
You should immediately consult your doctor if: you have diarrhea along with a fever higher than 38 degrees Celsius (101 degrees Fahrenheit); you have had diarrhea for five days; you are dizzy, light-headed, or intensely thirsty; you haven’t kept anything down for 24 hours.
You should head straight to the emergency room if you have any of the following symptoms which may point to a life-threatening case: your stool has a lot of blood in it (i.e. it is color maroon or black); you have a pounding, racing or skipping heartbeat; you are sick from shellfish, mushrooms, or a canned item as toxins from these foods can have especially serious consequences.