E. coli are bacteria that live in the digestive systems of animals and humans. Everyone has them, and they do not usually cause problems. But there are different types of E. coli. Some types cause disease. Eating or drinking something with one of these types in it can cause diarrhoea and other symptoms.
When E. coli causes disease, it usually happens in the digestive system. But E. coli can sometimes cause illness if it gets into areas of the body where it does not normally live. For example, E. coli can cause a urinary tract infection if it gets into the urinary tract .
The symptoms of E. coli infection of the digestive system include:
- Diarrhoea – This can be watery or bloody, and mild or severe.
- Belly pain
- Vomiting – This is more common in children infected with one specific type of E. coli.
E.coli that causes bloody diarrhoea sometimes also causes problems with the kidneys or blood. This is not common, but can be serious if it does happen.
See your gastroenterologist or if:
- You have more than 6 runny bowel movements in 24 hours.
- You have bloody diarrhoea.
- You have a fever higher than 101.3ºF (38.5ºC) that does not go away after a day
- You have severe belly pain.
- You have diarrhoea or fever and are age 70 or older.
You should also see a doctor if your body has lost too much water from diarrhoea. This is called “dehydration.” Signs of dehydration include:
- Having lots of diarrhoea that is very watery
- Feeling very tired
- Dry mouth or tongue
- Muscle cramps
- Dizziness, especially when you stand up
- Urine that is very yellow, or not needing to urinate for more than 5 hours
Most people do not need tests for E. coli. But the doctor might want to do:
- Tests on a sample of your bowel movements
- Blood tests
The types of E. coli that cause bloody diarrhoea can sometimes also cause problems with the kidneys or blood. If you get sick with E. coli, doctors might do tests to check for these problems.
Many people do not need any specific treatment. Diarrhoea from E. coli is not usually treated with antibiotic medicines. With some types of E. coli that cause diarrhoea, antibiotics might actually make the illness worse. But if E. coli causes symptoms in other parts of the body, you might need antibiotics.
Yes. If you have diarrhoea, you can:
- Drink a lot of liquids that have water, salt, and sugar. Good choices are soup broth and water mixed with juice. If you are drinking enough fluids, your urine will be light yellow or almost clear.
- Eat a little food if you feel hungry. Good choices are potatoes, noodles, rice, oatmeal, crackers, bananas, soup, and boiled vegetables. Salty foods help the most.
Ask your Gastroenterologist before you take any over-the-counter medicines for diarrhoea. If you have E. coli infection, some of these medicines can be harmful.