Food Poisoning

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Definition & Facts

Food poisoning is an infection or irritation of your digestive tract that spreads through foods or drinks. Food poisoning is most often acute, and most people get better on their own without treatment. In some cases, food poisoning leads to serious complications, such as dehydration.

Baking rack of lamb

Symptoms & Causes

Common symptoms of many types of food poisoning include diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, vomiting, pain in your abdomen, fever, and headache. Infections with viruses, bacteria, and parasites cause most food poisoning. Harmful chemicals also cause some cases of food poisoning.


Doctors often diagnose food poisoning based on your symptoms. If your symptoms are mild and last only a short time, you typically won’t need tests. In some cases, a medical history, a physical exam, stool tests, and blood tests can help diagnose food poisoning.


In most cases, you can treat food poisoning by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. In some cases, over-the-counter or prescription medicines may help. You can prevent some food poisoning by properly storing, cooking, cleaning, and handling foods.

Eating, Diet, & Nutrition

When you have food poisoning, you may lose your appetite for a short time. When your appetite returns, you can most often go back to eating your normal diet, even if you still have diarrhea. Most experts do not recommend fasting or following a restricted diet when you have diarrhea.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.

Your Digestive System & How it Works

The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract-also called the digestive tract-and the liver, pancreas, and the gallbladder. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus.

Related Research

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Last Reviewed June 2019

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank: Cynthia L. Sears, M.D., Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine