The most common serious complication of food poisoning is dehydration — a severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals. If you're a healthy adult and drink enough to replace fluids you lose from vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration shouldn't be a problem.
Infants, older adults and people with suppressed immune systems or chronic illnesses may become severely dehydrated when they lose more fluids than they can replace. In that case, they may need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids. In extreme cases, dehydration can be fatal.
Some types of food poisoning have potentially serious complications for certain people. These include:
July 24, 2014
- Listeria monocytogenes. Complications of a listeria food poisoning may be most severe for an unborn baby. Early in pregnancy, a listeria infection may lead to miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, a listeria infection may lead to stillbirth, premature birth or a potentially fatal infection in the baby after birth — even if the mother was only mildly ill. Infants who survive a listeria infection may experience long-term neurological damage and delayed development.
- Escherichia coli (E. coli). Certain E. coli strains can cause a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome. This syndrome damages the lining of the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys, sometimes leading to kidney failure. Older adults, children younger than 5 and people with weakened immune systems have a higher risk of developing this complication. If you're in one of these risk categories, see your doctor at the first sign of profuse or bloody diarrhea.
- Foodborne illness, foodborne disease, (sometimes called "food poisoning"). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/facts.html. Accessed April 16, 2014.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et al. Diagnosis and management of foodborne illnesses: A primer for physicians and other health care professionals. MMWR. 2004;53:1. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5304a1.htm. Accessed April 16, 2014.
- Acheson DWK. Patient information: Food-poisoning (foodborne illness). http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 17, 2014.
- Foodborne illness. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. http://www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/bacteria/index.aspx. Accessed April 16, 2014.
- The big thaw — Safe defrosting methods for consumers. Food Safety and Inspection Service. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/the-big-thaw-safe-defrosting-methods-for-consumers/CT_Index. Accessed April 17, 2014.
- Wanke CA. Approach to the adult with acute diarrhea in developed countries. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 17, 2014.