Bacterial gastroenteritis


Bacterial gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by bacteria.

Alternative Names

Infectious diarrhea - bacterial gastroenteritis; Acute gastroenteritis; Gastroenteritis - bacterial


Bacterial gastroenteritis can affect one person or a group of people who all ate the same food. It more commonly occurs after eating at picnics, school cafeterias, large social functions, or restaurants.

The germs may get into your food (called contamination) in different ways:

Food poisoning often occurs from eating or drinking:

Many different types of bacteria can cause bacterial gastroenteritis, including:


Symptoms depend on the type of bacteria that caused the sickness. All types of food poisoning cause diarrhea. Other symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will examine you for signs of food poisoning, such as pain in the stomach and signs your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should. This is called dehydration.

Laboratory tests may be done on the food or a stool sample to determine what germ is causing your symptoms. However, these tests do not always show the cause of the diarrhea.

Tests may also be done to look for white blood cells in the stool, a sign of infection.


You will usually recover from the most common types of bacterial gastroenteritis in a couple of days. The goal is to make you feel better and avoid dehydration.

Drinking enough fluids and learning what to eat will help keep you or your child comfortable. You may need to:

If you have diarrhea and are unable to drink or keep down fluids because of nausea or vomiting, you may need fluids through a vein (IV). This is especially true for young children.

If you take diuretics ("water pills"), talk to your health care provider. You may need to stop taking the diuretic while you have diarrhea. Never stop or change medications without first talking to your health care provider.

Antibiotics are usually not prescribed for most common types of bacterial gastroenteritis, unless the diarrhea is very severe.

You can buy medicines at the drugstore that can help stop or slow diarrhea.

Outlook (Prognosis)

You should be better in a few days without treatment.

Certain rare types of E. coli can cause severe anemia or even kidney failure.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have:

Also call your doctor if:


See: Preventing food poisoning


Schiller LR, Sellin JH. Diarrhea. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 15.

Sodha SV, Griffin PM, Hughes JM. Foodborne Diseases. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 99.

Craig SA, Zich DK. Gastroenteritis. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 92.

Review Date: 1/10/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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