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Bowel Infections in the Elderly

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Unfortunately, the loved one that you're caring for may easily get a bowel infection. The germs that cause this condition can quickly spread. However, the symptoms aren't always severe, and most patients can recover by relying on natural treatments.

Keep reading this article to learn more about bowel infections, what causes them, the symptoms, and when you should take your friend or family member to see a doctor.

What is a bowel infection?

In short, bowel infections occur when microorganisms (such as bugs or germs) enter the patient's digestive system. Most of these infections impact the gut (gastrointestinal tract).

A bowel infection is medically referred to as a gastrointestinal infection or gastroenteritis. People may develop this issue through multiple ways.

How do people get infected?

Your friend or family member can get a bowel infection from several sources. Firstly, if they eat or drink food or water that is contaminated, they will likely be infected. This is especially true amongst an elderly person, whose immune system makes them relatively more vulnerable to an infection.

Secondly, your loved one may contract a bug or germ after they interact with someone that has contamination. In the same vein, gastroenteritis-causing germs could spread when your friend or family member touches an infected object (taps, toys, and diapers, to give a few examples).

You will know that a patient has a bowel infection when they start to develop symptoms.

Symptoms of a Bowel Infection

The following are the most common bowel infection symptoms that patients experience:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cramp-like abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Blood in their stools
  • Loss of appetite

On many occasions, the patient's body is able to fight off the infection on its own. Their symptoms will gradually go away. However, taking your friend or family member to see a doctor is sometimes necessary.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see a doctor if you or a loved one start to develop one or more of these symptoms:

  • Have a high body temperature or fever
  • Start seeing blood or mucus in the stools
  • Diarrhea that persists for more than 2 or 3 days
  • Dehydration (for instance, excessive thirst or infrequent urination)

Additionally, you need to take the patient to their doctor when one or more of the common bowel infection symptoms (nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, ...etc.) becomes severe.

This is important because some of these symptoms may indicate that the patient has a more serious problem. A physician will be able to properly diagnose your loved one.

How are bowel infections diagnosed?

Doctors can detect and diagnose a bowel infection by using the following methods:

  • Taking a stool sample to test the patient's fecal matter
  • Running blood tests
  • Conducting an endoscopy (a colonoscopy, for example) so that they can look inside the patient's gastrointestinal tract

Once the doctor formally diagnoses your loved one with a bowel infection, they can start giving them the treatments or medications that they need.

How are bowel infections treated?

On many occasions, patients can recover from a bowel infection by drinking a lot of water. In fact, this is what the doctor will most likely recommend. After all, water cleanses the system and helps the body get rid of germs faster.

Some patients may require antibiotic medications to fight off an infection. This is more probable when they have a weakened immune system or other gastrointestinal issues that existed before the bowel infection.

Nonetheless, the best way to deal with an infection (regardless of your loved one's immune or gastrointestinal health) is to prevent it in the first place.

Can bowel infections be prevented?

Yes, they certainly can. Since this medical problem is spread through contacting an infected person, food/drink, or object, you can take these prevention precautions to avoid an infection:

  • Thoroughly cook foods that are susceptible to infections, such as meat and eggs.
  • Regularly wash your hands, especially before you touch any food (whether you're cooking or eating it).
  • Avoid using tap water, ice, and raw food when you travel to a developing country. Instead, you should only rely on bottled water, including when you drink and clean your teeth.
  • Needless to say, you shouldn't come into close contact with people that have a bowel infection.

Alongside these prevention precautions, you should avoid any other source that could cause you and/or your loved one to develop gastroenteritis.

Causes of Gastroenteritis

The following germs are known to cause bowel infections:

  • Yersinia: This bacteria can be found in pork, which underlines the importance of thoroughly cooking your food.
  • Staphylococcus: Staphylococcus is a germ that can grow in dairy products, meat, and eggs.
  • Shigella: This is a bacteria that inhabits water (mostly swimming pools).
  • Salmonella: Undercooked meat and eggs, as well as bad dairy products, may contain Salmonella.
  • Campylobacter: The bacteria can spread after a person eats contaminated meat and poultry. 
  • E. coli: E. coli is a type of bacteria that grows in ground beef and salads.

These germs, whether spread through food or person-to-person contact, will cause a bowel infection. In other words, if you and/or a friend or family member start to show gastroenteritis, you should try to identify its source and, from there, prevent this issue from recurring in the future.

Luckily, most of the symptoms of a bowel infection aren't severe, and they're treated by simply having the patient drink plenty of water.

When your loved one displays more serious symptoms, it might be best to take them to the doctor so that they receive an official diagnosis and, if needed, antibiotic medications.

Apart from that, the most efficient way to deal with a bowel infection is by preventing it. You can do so by following the preventive measures that we highlighted in this article and avoiding the common sources of contamination.