Dysentery: Treatment, symptoms, and causes

Dysentery is an intestinal inflammation, primarily of the colon.

It can lead to mild or severe stomach cramps and severe diarrhea with mucus or blood in the feces.

Without adequate hydration, it can be fatal.

Infection with the Shigella bacillus, or bacterium, is the most common cause.

Fast facts on dysentery:

Here are some key points about dysentery. More detail is in the main article.

Dysentery is an infection of the intestinal tract.

Symptoms include stomach cramps and diarrhea

Many people have mild symptoms, but dysentery can be fatal without adequate hydration.

What is dysentery?

woman drinking water
Fluids, and especially water, are essential to prevent dehydration.

Dysentery is an infectious disease associated with with severe diarrhea.

In the United States, signs and symptoms are normally mild and usually disappear within a few days. Most people will not seek medical attention.

If a person seeks medical help for dysentery in the U.S., however, the authorities must be informed. It is a notifiable disease.

Each year worldwide, there are between 120 million and 165 million cases of Shigella infection, of which 1 million are fatal. Over 60 percent of these fatalities are children under 5 years old in developing countries.

Treatment

Laboratory results will reveal whether the infection is due to Shigella or Entamoeba histolyca infection.

If treatment is necessary, it will depend on these results.

However, any patient with diarrhea or vomiting should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

If they are unable to drink, or if diarrhea and vomiting are profuse, intravenous (IV) fluid replacement may be necessary. The patient will be placed on a drip and monitored.

Treatment for mild bacillary dysentery

Mild bacillary dysentery, the kind commonly found in developed countries with good sanitation, will normally resolve without treatment.

However, the patient should drink plenty of fluids.

In more severe cases, antibiotic drugs are available.

Treatment for amoebic dysentery

Amoebicidal medications are used to treat Entamoeba histolyca. These will ensure that the amoeba does not survive inside the body after symptoms have resolved.

Flagyl, or metronidazole, is often used to treat dysentery. It treats both bacteria and parasites.

If lab results are unclear, the patient may be given a combination of antibiotic and amoebicidal medications, depending on how severe their symptoms are.

Symptoms include diarrhea and stomach cramps.
Symptoms include diarrhea and stomach cramps.

The symptoms of dysentery range from mild to severe, largely depending on the quality of sanitation in the areas where infection has spread.

In developed countries, signs and symptoms of dysentery tend to be milder than in developing nations or tropical areas.

Mild symptoms include:

a slight stomach-ache

cramping

diarrhea

These usually appear from 1 to 3 days after infection, and the patient recovers within a week.

Some people also develop lactose intolerance, which can last for a long time, sometimes years.

Symptoms of bacillary dysentery

Symptoms tend to appear within 1 to 3 days of infection. There is normally a mild stomach ache and diarrhea, but no blood or mucus in the feces. Diarrhea may be frequent to start with.

Less commonly, may be:

blood or mucus in the feces

intense abdominal pain

fever

nausea

vomiting

Often, symptoms are so mild that a doctor’s visit is not required, and the problem resolves in a few days.

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