Food Poisoning or IBS? How Could I Tell?

I have often compared IBS-D flares to food poisoning. For me, it is often very similar. This is also something many people have experienced so it gives them a better understanding of what IBS-D flares feel like for me.

If you have had food poisoning in the past, odds are there are many similarities with your IBS-D flares. Since it sometimes feels the exact same, how can you tell it is food poisoning and when it is an IBS-D flare?

Similarities of food poisoning and IBS-D

The symptoms of food poisoning include cramps, bloating, severe diarrhea, and nausea. These symptoms can be really severe and last for days at a time. Left untreated, a severe bout can lead to dehydration and require intravenous fluids.

An IBS-D flare has all the same symptoms. I can eat a trigger food and spend a few days to a few weeks dealing with pretty much the same symptoms I would have if I ate raw chicken. It really is similar enough that it would be hard to tell the difference between a flare or food poisoning. I am left doubled over in pain and running back and forth to the bathroom.

Differences in food poisoning and IBS-D

In my experience, there often are not a lot of differences. The small differences are so subtle that they would be easy to overlook. I do not think I would be able to tell the difference.

While some people have severe nausea and vomiting with food poisoning, I usually do not. I have had nausea, but I sometimes have nausea during an IBS flare. It is not a tell-tale sign for me. Perhaps this would be the difference for some, but for others it is not.

Why I compare food poisoning to IBS

While someone who does not have IBS cannot fully understand it, this comparison allows people to have a better understanding. Many have had food poisoning. If you have ever had it, then you definitely remember the symptoms and how awful it was. When I tell people IBS is like having frequent bouts of food poisoning, I can almost see a light bulb appear over their heads.

Of course, they still cannot understand that both everything and nothing can trigger a flare. Sometimes a trigger food is to blame. Sometimes stress is the culprit. At other times a flare comes out of nowhere for absolutely no reason at all. The unpredictable nature is so disruptive to our lives, and that is something many do not seem to understand.

How do you tell the difference between IBS and food poisoning?

I have no idea how to tell the difference. It is extremely rare for me to have severe nausea or vomiting with food poisoning. The symptoms are identical for me and one is generally not more severe than the other.

Knowing this, I think the only way I might suspect food poisoning is if someone else got food poisoning from the same restaurant or meal. I recently had reason to wonder if a flare was actually food poisoning for that very reason. Perhaps it was. I will never know.

Do you have flares that closely resemble the symptoms of food poisoning? Have you ever compared IBS to food poisoning when trying to explain it to others?

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