What is dysentery?

Dysentery broadly refers to infectious gastrointestinal disorders characterized by inflammation of the intestines, chiefly the colon. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines dysentery as any episode of diarrhea in which blood is present in loose, watery stools.

Dysentery is spread among humans through contaminated food and water. Once a person is infected, the infectious organism lives in the intestines and is passed in the stool of the infected person. With some infections, animals can also be infected and spread the disease to humans.

Common bacterial causes of dysentery in the United States include infections with the bacteria Shigella and some types of Escherichia coli (E coli). Other less common bacterial causes of bloody diarrhea include Salmonella and Campylobacter infections. Dysentery is associated with environmental conditions where poor sanitation is prevalent. For example, childcare institutions and developing countries have higher rates of Shigella. Amebic dysentery, caused by the parasite Entamoeba histolytica, is most commonly found in tropical areas with crowded living conditions and poor sanitation.

The signs and symptoms of dysentery can last five to seven days or even longer. The course of the illness varies among individuals, as do symptoms. Some people suffering with dysentery have mild symptoms, while others may have severe diarrhea with or without vomiting that can pose a risk of dehydration. Fortunately, dysentery can be treated with antibiotics and antiparasitic medications.

Untreated dysentery can lead to severe dehydration. Severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can result in shock or coma and may be life-threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms of severe dehydration such as confusion, lethargy, loss of consciousness, cold skin, or decreased urine output. Seek prompt medical care if you develop diarrhea and vomiting and believe you may have been exposed to contaminated food or water.


What are the symptoms of dysentery?

Dysentery causes irritation and inflammation of the intestines that may result in a number of symptoms. The symptoms can vary in intensity among individuals.

Common symptoms of dysentery

The most common symptoms of dysentery are related to disturbances of the digestive system and include:


What causes dysentery?

The bacteria Shigella and E coli and the amoeba Entamoeba histolytica are the most common causes of dysentery. These organisms are present in the stool (feces) of infected people and animals. The Entamoeba histolytica may uneventfully reside in the colon, but if it attacks the colon wall, it can cause dysentery. People with weakened immune s... Read more about dysenterycauses


How is dysentery treated?

Treatment for dysentery begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. To determine if you have dysentery, your health care provider may ask you to provide stool samples for laboratory testing.

Antibiotic therapy is the mainstay of treatment for dysentery due to bacterial organisms and is highly effective. It is important to follow your treatment plan for dysente... Read more about dysenterytreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

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