Yellow Diarrhea & Food Poisoning? All Questions answered
MD, Assistant lecturer of internal medicine, Gastro-enterology, & Hepatology.
IBS sufferer, Gut health enthusiast, and writer.
Your health matters, my content is not a substitute for the medical advice by your doctor. #Stay_Safe
- Yellow diarrhea is a possible sign of food poisoning.
- Usually, it is not a dangerous condition. And it may be due to one or more of:
- Speeding up of your intestinal contents due to the process of diarrhea itself.
- Food poisoning with certain organisms (especially Giradiasis).
- Eating certain foods prior to or during the attack of diarrhea (as carrots and sweet potatoes).
- Yellow diarrhea doesn’t always mean food poisoning. Other causes can cause yellow diarrhea, learn more here.
- Stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) is another very common cause of yellow diarrhea. But have milder symptoms.
- Ask for help from your doctor if:
- Severe watery diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, or prolonged diarrhea for more than 3 days.
- Signs of dehydration: scanty or dark urine, extreme thirst, dizziness, or confusion.
- Young babies, elderly >60 years, or pregnant.
- Chronic diseases or low immunity states.
- Recent antibiotics or traveling abroad.
Can food poisoning cause yellow diarrhea?
Food poisoning can cause yellow diarrhea, but not all the time. The most common types of food poisoning that can cause yellow diarrhea are the organisms that infect the small intestinal part of your gut such as giradiasis, salmonella, campylobacter, and others
Food poisoning can lead to yellow diarrhea by one or more of 3 mechanisms:
- Speeding up of your intestinal contents: as stool won’t have enough time to acquire its normal brown color.
- Food poisoning with certain organisms: some organisms more commonly to cause yellow/watery diarrhea than others: Giardiasis, salmonella, campylobacter, norovirus.
- Food factors: some diets can make your diarrhea more yellowish if you ate them during or before the onset of symptoms:
- Sweet Potatoes.
- any yellow pigment-containing foods.
Does yellow diarrhea always means food poisoning?
You may have food poisoning with yellow diarrhea. But yellow diarrhea can be a result of other common infections that are not considered food poisoning (commonly: stomach bug or stomach flu), or even due to causes other than an infection.
Causes of yellow diarrhea OTHER THAN food poisoning:
- Stomach flu: infection with stomach viruses such as norovirus or rotavirus. Although some people consider them another form of food poisoning. But they are usually milder infections and self-limiting infection.
- Recent medication: you may experience yellow diarrhea after some medications such as laxatives, some antibiotics, or GERD and Yellow diarrhea Medications.
- Stress or anxiety situations.
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Alcohol binge drinking.
- Indigestion of a large fatty meal.
- Food allergy/intolerance.
The causes of yellow diarrhea are discussed in detail here: Yellow diarrhea: Causes Simplified By A Gut Doctor.
What are the most common organisms that can cause food poisoning with yellow diarrhea?
- Small intestinal infection → watery diarrhea (which can be yellow). Common causes:
- E. coli (ETEC, EAEC strains).
- Giardiasis (commonly causes yellow diarrhea)
- Large intestinal infection (colon, rectum) → inflammatory diarrhea (bloody, mucous diarrhea with or without fever). Common causes include:
- Entamoeba Histolytica.
- E. coli (Enterohemorrhagic strains).
- Vomiting-predominant food poisoning → usually due to the ingestion of a preformed toxin with food. Common causes include:
- Staph. Aureus enterotoxin.
- Bacillus cereus emetic toxin.
- Norovirus also can cause such a condition.
Is there a difference between food poisoning or stomach flu?
Food poisoning is a disease caused by eating or drinking contaminated foods/drinks contaminated with bacteria, parasites, viruses, toxins, or chemicals.
While stomach flu (stomach bug) is not a scientific medical term, but it usually refers to viral gastro-enteritis which is mild, self-limiting, & short term illness
Caused by viruses
Caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, or chemicals.
Food is not the only source of infection, stomach flu can be acquired by unwashed hands or unclean surfaces, droplet infection, direct contact with an infected person.
Infection is due to eating or drinking contaminated food/drinks.
Symptoms start after a day or more of infection
Symptoms start shortly after eating contaminated food (usually 2-6 hours)
Complications are rare
The complication is common such as severe vomiting, severe diarrhea, dehydration, or even dangerous complications as with botulism.
Diarrhea is usually brownish or yellowish in color
Diarrhea is more severe, watery, can be yellow, greenish, bloody.
What are other colors of food poisoning?
Not all types of food poisoning cause yellow diarrhea. It may present with different colors or even without diarrhea.
- Yellow diarrhea: in most cases of food poisoning the stool color may turn yellow. And this is usually not a dangerous sign, It is simply because your stool stays for shorter periods inside your intestine (No enough time to acquire its normal brown color).
It is usually due to organisms infecting your small intestine
- Bloody diarrhea/dysentery: some types of food poisoning can lead to severe diarrhea with blood or mucus.
It is usually due to organisms infecting your large intestine (colon & rectum) such as shigellosis, campylobacter, E. coli (entero-invasive strains), and entamoeba Histolytica.
- Greenish diarrhea: with some small intestinal organisms, severe watery diarrhea can turn into greenish color due to the rapid passage of unprocessed green bile as a result of diarrhea. This can occur with salmonella, giardia, and norovirus .
- Rice watery (white) diarrhea: although not common in the USA. but rice watery diarrhea is usually due to vibrio cholera infection (if your diarrhea is completely watery and whitish in color this requires emergency medical attention as cholera is a life-threatening condition).
- No-diarrhea: some forms of food poisoning can present without any diarrhea. And the symptoms include vomiting only or non-intestinal symptoms such as jaundice (hepatitis A food poisoning), neurological symptoms (Botulism), or body aches (stomach flu).
What are the warning signs for food poisoning?
Usually, food poisoning is a self-limiting condition. But it can result in complications especially if you have risk factors such as older age, or chronic illness that can affect your immunity.
Here is the list of signs and circumstances that requires you to seek help from your doctor or nurse:
- Massive diarrhea: profuse watery diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, especially if more than 6 motions/day
- Signs of dehydration: dry mouth or extreme thirst, rapid breath, not peeing at all or dark scanty urine, dizziness, or confusion.
- Bloody diarrhea: the passage of blood or bloody mucus with your stool.
- Fever: more than 38.5° C (101.3° F)
- Co-existing diseases: such as cardiac diseases, HIV, cancer chemotherapy.
- Prolonged diarrhea: more than 3 days.
- Age: older than 60, babies, or children.
- Pregnant women.
- Recent antibiotic treatment or recent traveling abroad.
How to treat food poisoning and yellow diarrhea?
- Step #1: If you have any of the warning signs enlisted above, please seek medical help immediately.
- Step #2: drink more fluids, if you experience vomiting try to drink “small-frequent” amounts of water, fruit juices, or sports drinks high in electrolytes. But if you think you have significant dehydration, ask your doctor about the use of “Oral Rehydration Solutions”.
- Step #3: Eat easy-to-digest foods and avoid solid and high-fat food (see below).
- Step #4: Ask your doctor about over the counter anti-diarrheal such as Immodium or Pepto-Bismol to control diarrhea and nausea.
- Step #5: if you have a fever, paracetamol is the best option. But see your doctor if the temperature is above 38.5 C (101.3 F).
- Step #6: Having rest always helps.
- Step #7: monitor, monitor, monitor! If there any warning signs of dehydration or diarrhea lasts for more than 3 days, please seek help.
How to eat when you have food poisoning / yellow diarrhea?
- Eat bland, easy to digest foods,
- Avoid high fat & highly acidic food. See the table below
BRAT: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast
Dairy: especially full-fat milk and cheese
High-fat and junk foods.
Highly seasoned foods.
Foods with a high sugar content
- Frequent small amounts of fluid are essential.
- Avoid drinking a large amount of water or any drink at once especially if you have nausea or vomiting.
- If you can’t drink or you have dehydration, seek medical help as you may need intravenous fluid.
Caffeine (coffee, caffeinated drinks)
Diluted fruit juices
Soda without caffeine (as ginger ale)