If you are a CDPAP Caregiver, knowing the signs and symptoms of bowel infections in the elderly is extremely important. Bowel infections can be dangerous if not caught early because they can lead to severe dehydration and malnutrition.
Knowing how to react and give proper treatment is also crucial to keeping your patients healthy and thriving in their old age.
What is a Bowel Infection?
Bowel infections are infections found in the digestive system, usually in the intestines. Microorganisms sometimes find their way into the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and cause someone to fall ill. You might hear doctors and nurses refer to bowel infections as gastrointestinal infections or gastroenteritis.
This simply means the GI tract has become infected or inflamed because of the microorganisms. Microorganisms are small bacteria, sometimes called bugs or germs. You won’t be able to see microorganisms in the fecal matter without a microscope. So, knowing the signs of bowel infections is extremely important since you won’t be able to examine the stool yourself for invading organisms.
How Do People Get Infected?
Unfortunately, there are many ways people can get infected with bacteria that cause bowel infections. Bowel infections are also easily spread, so they can pass between members of the same house or from patient to caregiver easily.
Bowel infections can be caused by eating or drinking contaminated water or food. This is more common in developing nations but does happen in the United States when grocery stores and restaurants don’t follow proper hygiene practices.
Bowel infections can also be caused by coming into contact with an infected object. This could include dirty diapers, soiled clothing, or cutlery. Bowel infections can be spread through even the smallest amount of bacteria or contaminated fecal matter, so even though the item might not appear dirty, you can still get an infection from it.
Symptoms of Bowel Infections
Symptoms of bowel infections can range from mild to severe depending on the cause of the infection. Unfortunately, in the elderly, symptoms tend to be more severe. If the person already has another health condition or is immune-compromised, their symptoms will also be more severe.
Symptoms to watch out for include:
● Diarrhea. Diarrhea is sometimes normal and will pass by itself. If it’s watery or goes on for more than a few hours though, it could signal a bowel infection.
● Nausea. This is the feeling like you want to vomit or feel like you will vomit soon.
● Vomiting. Vomiting caused by bowel infections can be prolonged and last for more than a day. Prolonged vomiting can cause malnourishment.
● Crampy abdominal pain. Cramps caused by bowel infections are usually felt in the mid and upper abdomen. They can be sharp or dull. They can be constant or intermittent.
● Fever. Fevers are common with any infection. Low-grade fevers can be left without treatment, but high fevers need medication and doctor treatment.
● Headache. This can be caused by the infection itself or by dehydration.
● Blood in stool. If you have a severe abdominal infection, you might find bleeding in your stool. Bright blood signals a tearing around the anus or rectum. Dark blood means there is bleeding in your upper GI tract.
● Loss of appetite. Bowel infections might make you feel like not eating. It’s important to try and drink water and eat bland food if you can.
When Should I See My Doctor?
Sometimes bowel infections only last a day or two and will pass by themselves. However, there are times where you will need to go to the doctor for treatment.
Seek medical attention right away if:
● Your symptoms are severe
● You have a high temperature (102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)
● Blood or mucus in your stools
● Diarrhea that lasts longer than 2 o4 3 days
● You are experiencing signs of dehydration including excessive thirst and not passing much urine
How Are Bowel Infections Diagnosed?
When you go to the clinic or hospital, there are many ways a doctor can test for bowel infections. Here are the most common methods:
● Fecal testing. The nurse will ask you to leave a stool sample in a cup. The lab technician will then put it under a microscope and check for microorganisms.
● Blood Sample. A nurse might take a blood sample to check for typhoid fever or hepatitis.
● Endoscopies. Colonoscopies can be done to check the gastrointestinal tract for infections and problems caused by infections such as polyps or hemorrhoids.
How Are Bowel Infections Treated?
Viral bowl infections often go away on their own after a few days. If you are dehydrated, the doctor might put you on an intravenous drip to directly put electrolytes back into your body. They might also advise you to go home and drink water or Pedialyte.
If you have a bacterial infection such as typhoid or a parasite such as giardia, you will need antibiotics.
Can Bowel Infections Be Prevented?
Bowel infections can be prevented by following proper hygiene protocols including:
● Cooking all meat and eggs thoroughly.
● Wash hands before and after every meal.
● Wash hands after using the washroom or changing a diaper.
● Only drinking bottled water when traveling to developing nations.
● Avoiding ice in developing nations as well as raw food.
● Isolating from people who have bowel infections until they are better.
Cause of Gastroenteritis
Many common bacteria cause gastroenteritis:
● Yersinia. Usually found in pork.
● Staphylococcus. Found in dairy products, meat, and eggs.
● Shigella. Found in water and swimming pools.
● Salmonella. Found in meat, dairy products, and eggs.
● Campylobacter. Found in meat and poultry.
● E.Coli. Found in ground beef and salads.
Bowel infections can be serious and uncomfortable. Knowing the signs will allow you to seek medical care and treat yourself at home. By following hygiene practices, you might be able to better avoid bowel infections.
Make sure to notify your doctor if you are worried about any of the symptoms and never take medication or over-the-counter treatments without first