Every year, about 1 in 6 people in the U.S. experience food poisoning, or foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foodborne illness occurs when you ingest a food or beverage contaminated with toxins or illness-causing pathogens such as bacteria, viruses or parasites. Abdominal bloating can be a symptom of food poisoning, however bloating can also be a new symptom that starts after recovery from a gastrointestinal infection.
Food Poisoning and Bloating
While vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration are the typical and more severe indicators of foodborne illness, bloating is a potential symptom that may cause a significant amount of pain and discomfort. Abdominal bloating, which is a sense of gassiness or distension, is typically caused by large meals, swallowed air or extra gas that is made by gut bacteria and incompletely digested foods. Bloating from food poisoning can also be related to excessive gas production in the intestines -- caused by chemical reactions related to the foodborne illness.
Post-Infection Food Intolerance
Abdominal bloating can also develop after recovery from an infection such as foodborne illness. An article published in the December 2014 issue of “Paediatrics and Child Health” noted how children suffering from diarrhea may temporarily stop producing lactase, the digestive enzyme that breaks down lactose, a milk sugar. An absence of lactase will cause lactose intolerance -- which can lead to diarrhea, stomach cramps and bloating. An intolerance to gluten, a component of wheat, barley and rye, may also occur after a viral or bacterial gastrointestinal infection, according to an article published in the winter 2015 issue of “Gastroenterology and Hepatology.” While not the same celiac disease, in which gluten causes an immune response that attacks the lining of the intestines, an intolerance to gluten may share celiac's common symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating.
Post-Infection Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder characterized by a myriad of symptoms, most commonly abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. A June 2007 review published in “Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics” concluded that the odds of developing IBS are increased by 6-fold after having a gastrointestinal infection such as foodborne illness, and study authors determined this increased risk remained for 3 years. This post-infectious IBS is thought to be related to the inflammation from the infection, and undesirable changes in the gut bacteria -- the trillions of microorganisms that plays an important role in gut function and immunity.
The priority in treating food poisoning is to prevent dehydration by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium. Any symptoms of bloating usually subside once the digestive tract rids itself of the infectious organism. After recovery, if you develop a new pattern of gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea or stomach pain, talk with your doctor. Also see a doctor right away if you have frequent vomiting, diarrhea that lasts for more than 3 days, blood in your stool, temperature over 101.5 degrees, severe abdominal pain or cramping, or signs of dehydration, including dry mouth, little or no urination, dizziness, weakness or excessive thirst.
Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH RD