The Effects of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning, also known as food-borne illness, occurs after eating food contaminated with toxins, such as bacteria, viruses or parasites. Mild to moderate cases of food poisoning often resolve themselves within several days without need for medical treatment. Severe cases, however, may be life-threatening. If your symptoms are severe or persistent, seek medical attention.

Abdominal Cramping

Many people experience abdominal cramping as a first sign of food poisoning. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, abdominal cramping may occur immediately following ingestion of contaminated food, or within 12 to 72 hours, indicating your body’s rejection to the toxic substance. Abdominal cramping generally resolves itself within four to seven days. Severity of cramping varies among individuals. A heating pad or over-the-counter pain medication may help alleviate the pain until your body has recovered. If your abdominal pain is severe, seek medical attention.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Vomiting and diarrhea (loose, frequent stools) are common effects of food poisoning. Your body uses them to rid itself of ingested toxins. Abdominal cramping can make vomiting and diarrhea worse. To prevent vomiting, diarrhea and other effects of food-borne illness, maintain personal hygiene by washing your hands consistently and thoroughly. Clean and store food appropriately and dispose of food that has passed its expiration date. If your vomiting or diarrhea symptoms are severe, seek medical attention, as if left untreated both effects may lead to loss of vital nutrients.


Dehydration, or severe loss of water, electrolytes (salts) and minerals, is a common, potentially serious effect of food poisoning. Diarrhea and vomiting can contribute to dehydration, but healthy adults who replenish fluids lost through diarrhea or vomiting generally do not experience dehydration, according to the Mayo Clinic. Infants, elderly adults and people with chronic disease or illnesses that weaken the immune system are more likely to experience severe dehydration. Serious cases may require hospitalization so fluids can be replaced intravenously. If left untreated, or if dehydration becomes intensely severe, it can be fatal.

To prevent dehydration, make efforts to remain hydrated during bouts of food poisoning, drinking lots of water and/or beverages that contain electrolytes, such as sports drinks. If you are at heightened risk for dehydration because of age or illness, seek medical guidance as soon as you observe food poisoning symptoms for best results.

About this Author

August J. McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as “Healthy Aging,” “CitySmart,” “IAmThatGirl” and “ULM.” She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit – a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.