E. coli, short for escherichia coli, is a bacterium that causes severe and sometimes life-threatening symptoms for people who ingest it. Symptoms mostly involve the gastrointestinal system with problems including diarrhea and vomiting. Timely medical treatment can be key to a good outcome when E. coli strikes, so it’s important to know the common symptoms of exposure.
Symptoms of E. Coli
Patients stricken with E. coli have a wide range of symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal system and beyond. First, stomach cramps occur and become increasingly severe as the stomach becomes more tender. Nausea and vomiting are normal. Diarrhea soon ensues, being watery initially but very bloody later on in many cases. Finally, a mild fever below 101 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.5 degrees Celsius may also occur.
Most patients recover from E. coli symptoms within seven to 10 days. However, young and elderly patients are at higher risk of suffering long-term symptoms from E. coli infection. About 15 percent of children and elderly patients, and five to 10 percent of all patients infected with E. coli, go on to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is potentially fatal.
Identifying E. coli symptoms in young children and elderly patients is critical to avoiding the development of severe kidney damage and potentially death. While the initial symptoms of E. coli infection usually pass within a week or so, problems affecting the blood and kidneys may not arise until up to two weeks after gastrointestinal symptoms first emerge. To prevent severe health problems from arising due to these issues, doctors normally observe patients in these groups as well as pregnant women and other patients with reduced immunity to detect signs of kidney problems as early as possible.
How E. coli Symptoms Are Identified
Evaluation of patients that may be suffering from E. coli infection begins with a physical examination then goes into medical history. Doctors usually first ask how long diarrhea has persisted and whether it contains blood. The presence of fatigue, chills, fever and abdominal cramps and nausea are taken into account. To confirm that symptoms are due to E. coli and not something else, doctors may ask the patient whether they have been exposed to food poisoning, nursing homes, people with severe diarrhea or recent antibiotic use. Temperature, pulse rate, pallor, stomach tenderness and a rectal exam for blood are all used to identify E. coli infection.
Patients with E. coli infections generally recover without the use of any medication. In most cases, prescription or over-the-counter anti-diarrheal drugs are absolutely not advised for treating E. coli. Since many of these medications work by slowing the rate of movement through the intestines, they could cause the body to be exposed to the toxins from E. coli for longer and raise risks of serious kidney and blood problems as a result. Patients should avoid anti-diarrheal products when E. coli is suspected. In every case, patients should see a doctor as soon as symptoms become apparent to improve the outcome and avoid the most serious problems.