Diagnosis

To diagnose illness caused by E. coli infection, your doctor sends a sample of your stool to a laboratory to test for the presence of E. coli bacteria. The bacteria may be cultured to confirm the diagnosis and identify specific toxins, such as those produced by E. coli O157:H7.

Treatment

For illness caused by E. coli, no current treatments can cure the infection, relieve symptoms or prevent complications. For most people, treatment includes:

  • Rest
  • Fluids to help prevent dehydration and fatigue

Avoid taking an anti-diarrheal medication — this slows your digestive system down, preventing your body from getting rid of the toxins. Antibiotics generally aren't recommended because they can increase the risk of serious complications and they don't appear to help treat the infection.

If you have a serious E. coli infection that has caused a life-threatening form of kidney failure (hemolytic uremic syndrome), you'll be hospitalized. Treatment includes IV fluids, blood transfusions and kidney dialysis.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Follow these tips to prevent dehydration and reduce symptoms while you recover:

  • Drink clear liquids. Drink plenty of clear liquids, including water, clear sodas and broths, gelatin, and juices. Avoid apple and pear juices, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Avoid certain foods. Dairy products, fatty foods, high-fiber foods or highly seasoned foods can make symptoms worse.
  • Eat meals. When you start feeling better, you can return to your normal diet.

Preparing for your appointment

Most people don't seek medical attention for E. coli infections. If your symptoms are particularly severe, you may want to visit your primary care doctor or seek immediate care.

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and know what to expect from your doctor.

What you can do

  • Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • Write down key personal information, including any recent life changes or international travel.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
  • Ask a family member or friend to come with you, if possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all of the information provided to you during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor.

For an E. coli infection, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
  • What kinds of tests do I need?
  • What treatments are available, and which do you recommend?
  • Will there be any lasting effects from this illness?
  • How can I prevent this from happening again?
  • Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend visiting?

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor may ask:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • How often are you having diarrhea?
  • Are you vomiting? If so, how often?
  • Does your vomit or diarrhea contain bile, mucus or blood?
  • Have you had a fever? If so, how high?
  • Are you also having abdominal cramps?
  • Have you recently traveled outside the country?
  • Does anyone else in your household have the same symptoms?

What you can do in the meantime

If you or your child has an E. coli infection, it may be tempting to use an anti-diarrheal medication, but don't. Diarrhea is one way the body rids itself of toxins. Preventing diarrhea slows that process down.

Take small sips of fluid as tolerated to try to stay hydrated.

Oct. 10, 2020
  1. E. coli (Escherichia coli). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/index.html. Accessed Aug. 27, 2020.
  2. E. coli. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/e-coli. Accessed Aug. 27, 2020.
  3. Holtz LR, et al. Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli: Microbiology, pathogenesis, epidemiology, and prevention. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Aug. 27, 2020.
  4. Holtz LR, et al. Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli: Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Aug. 27, 2020.
  5. Goldman L, et al., eds. Escherichia coli enteric infections. In: Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 27, 2020.
  6. Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea. Accessed Aug. 27, 2020.