It's not your cooking, I swear...
January 5, 2010 4:06 PM   Subscribe

I seem to suffer from food poisoning way more often than most people. I know YANMD, but do you think this could indicate some underlying problem? (Gross explanation inside)

Details: Probably about four times a year I show all the symptoms of food poisoning: sudden onset of nausea within an hour or two of eating; 2-3 hours of continuous vomiting, to the point that the last hour is trying to vomit up bile and my throat is so sore the next day I can hardly talk; persistent and severe abdominal pain that does not go away even when I do vomit; often (ew) it comes out both ends at once; lots and lots of sweating. And then, after 2-3 hours, it goes away and I am absolutely fine.

The things that make me worry are the following:

1. Never once has anybody who has eaten the same food also gotten sick. Not even mildly nauseated.

2. I know four times a year doesn't sound like much, but given that most people suffer from food poisoning maybe a handful of times in their lives, it is definitely way out of the norm from anybody I know. It is one of the most highly unpleasant things ever, and frequent enough that even normal bouts of slight nausea or indigestion fill me with dread.

3. There is no apparent pattern to the foods that cause it. In the past year, it occurred after: 1 - shrimp; 2 - fruit salad; 3 - unclear, but probably fruit salad, or pumpkin pie; 4 - bacon & eggs. For the latter I was already slightly hung over before eating the bacon and eggs, but it had been about eight hours since drinking anything, and it was a quantity I had drunk before with no ill-effects at all.

4. The frequency seems to be increasing. This last year was about four times. The year before, about two. Before that, maybe once a year. The first time ever occurred about eight years ago.

As far as I can tell, I have no other digestive problems. I'm not allergic to anything that I'm aware of.

Factors that may also be relevant:

I lived for a year in a village in Africa about nine years ago. Perhaps I ingested something there that might have messed up my stomach in some way? I had one bout of some sort of dysentery-type thing (which the doctor monitored) but aside from that had no stomach-related problems the entire time I was there.

I have no problems with excessive weight gain or loss. 32 years old, no apparent health problems, exercise moderately, eat decently well (I eat meat and dairy, get a lot of vegetables, some carbs).

I am currently on no medications. I was on Concerta (methylphenidate) for about four years but stopped that almost two years ago.

I am the pickiest eater of anybody I know. In essence, I don't like strong flavours of any sort: curries, sauces, condiments, I can handle but at about 1/10th the concentration of most people. If anything I think the causal arrow may go the other way (i.e., I have effectively taste averted myself to many things what with the frequent puking) but I thought I'd mention it.

This could totally be nothing; I could just have an unusually sensitive stomach. But these episodes are so unpleasant that if anybody has ideas about what might be responsible, I am all ears. Or if you think I should see a doctor right away, say so. My bias is that it is probably not deeply concerning, though it is highly unpleasant. And I don't really know what sort of doctor would be appropriate to ask - it seems a bit out of the purview of a general practitioner, and the odds seem high to me that they'll just shrug their shoulders and have no idea. But it's sufficiently weird that my partner is somewhat worried, and I am too. Googling is of no help; I haven't found anybody anywhere with this particular complaint.
posted by forza to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"I'm not allergic to anything that I'm aware of."

Time to get tested, then, I'd say. It doesn't sound like poisoning from tainted food, it sounds like bad reactions to normal food. I wasn't aware that I was allergic to wasp stings but...these things have a way of making themselves apparent.
posted by carlh at 4:10 PM on January 5, 2010

Could it be a gall bladder attack? Usually your gall bladder is aggravated by fatty meals, so the fruit salad bit seems odd. It's easy enough for a dr. to check your gall bladder for stones - you just get a painless ultrasound. I suffered from mysterious intestinal distress off and on for a few years and was always told it was IBS, and then one night I had a seriously painful and dramatic attack and was diagnosed with gall stones. Since I had my gall bladder removed I feel fantastic! Your symptoms are a bit different from mine, and obviously I'm not a doctor, but it might be worth looking into.
posted by katie at 4:20 PM on January 5, 2010

If you're getting sick within an hour of eating, it's probably not food poisoning. Even the nastiest bacteria usually takes longer than that before any symptoms are felt.
posted by Jairus at 4:33 PM on January 5, 2010

Best answer: I also vote for getting your gall bladder checked. My sister had very similar symptoms for years. She had less vomiting, but the intense pain and diarrhea within an hour or two of eating got more frequent over the years. Each attack would last 2 or 3 hours, and then just vanish. Any food could set it off, but fatty, greasy foods, alcohol, or whole grain foods were the worst. At age 23, she had her gall bladder removed, and she had a gallstone the size of a marble. Then she could eat whatever she wanted and promptly gained 20 pounds :)
posted by SamanthaK at 4:47 PM on January 5, 2010

I second Jairus. Food poisoning tends to last longer; usually the nausea and vomiting are 8-12 hours. What you describe sounds more like a stomach virus.
posted by drinkcoffee at 4:48 PM on January 5, 2010

Best answer: The correct doctor to start with is a primary care doctor, who will most likely refer you to a gastroenterologist.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:52 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two anecdotes:

1) I managed to food-poison myself a bunch of times, once sending myself to emerg. I had been making stir fry with a sauce mix and I suspect that there was something in the mix (MSG, maybe?) that just did not agree with me. (Could have also been bad chicken or eggs, but once I stopped using the mix, I was fine.) If I were you, I'd monitor EXACTLY what I'm eating, optimally all the time, but especially right after a food-poisoning attack -- figure out all of the ingredients in all of the foods you ate in the past 24 hours.

2) My brother went to Indonesia a couple of years ago and went deep into the jungle on an adventure, and ate there. He came home and developed bad stomach problems. When he finally went to a gastroentologist, he had some kind of bacteria that was going to take 3 years to cycle out of his system and in the meantime, he basically has IBS.

So: go see your doctor, get a referral to a gastroentologist (as Sidhedevil suggests), and see what happens.

I don't cook anymore, by the way.
posted by pised at 5:13 PM on January 5, 2010

In my family a lot of us have that kind of reaction to seafood - prawns etc. About an hour after eating... and there it goes. Sometimes it's gone as quickly as yours, sometimes longer. I've never been tested for allergies but because of the family thing, the first time it came up (as it were) I was told "ah, you've got it too".

I don't actually think what we have is a straightforward allergy though, because I have (and still do) eat some prawns occasionally (prawn crackers). First few times I had them I was under the impression they were entirely synthetic, and I was fine. I think it's more likely a sensitivity to certain things that can be found in seafood. Further experimentation, though, is not likely to be pleasant. So I'm going to avoid it all.

Maybe there's something similar in your diet? Allergy exclusion diets can be very useful for tracking these things down if there isn't a family history or obvious cause.
posted by handee at 5:41 PM on January 5, 2010

I've had food poisoning three times over the past three years. From melon, pizza, and undercooked eggs in takeout. Each time, the symptoms were similar to what you have, but they lasted at least 2-3 days, not hours.

It sounds more like some sort of allergy or deficiency, so definitely go get checked out. It doesn't trouble you much on an everyday basis, but if you could prevent those episodes, wouldn't it be a big relief?
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:17 PM on January 5, 2010

Best answer: Don't try and second-guess yourself. Stomach problems are a modern day Riddle of the Sphinx; having a set idea about "the problem" can send you on a wild goose chase.

Go to your GP, tell her/him the problem. As Sidhedevil alludes, you will most likely get reffered to a gastro. DO IT!

Speaking as someone who knows, it's real easy to let your quality of life slide slowly but surely with stomach problems, until when you finally get it managed you're shocked when you reflect on how much pain and trouble you accepted for so long. Don't be like that. Get on it now, you won't regret it.
posted by smoke at 6:58 PM on January 5, 2010

As stated above, it could be any of several things, and a trip to the doctor is probably the only way to find out for sure.
I had similar symptoms (minus the vomiting), and I traced it (by elimination) to the peanut butter I was eating. after I stopped, I haven't had it happen again.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:17 PM on January 5, 2010

I had a similar thing. Eggs and fat would trigger it, and it would build up. For example, if I had eggs for breakfast, cheese at lunch and a fatty dinner, there would be a problem in the evening. Either one individually wouldn't cause a problem.

After being in the hospital to be rehydrated after one particularly bad time I actually went to my doctor about it. My doctor said it was more like gall bladder "silt" than "stones" according to the ultrasound. He said cut down on the processed junk and fatty foods, and it has helped dramatically! I also keep more focus on what I'm eating, and skip the creme brulee for desert if I had a 3 egg omlette in the morning.

Also, if it's food poisoning, someone else will have it, unless they have an iron stomach and never get sick (I've seen it! It's weird when everyone else is super-sick from food and they're still eating the suspect leftovers from the restauraunt the next day!)
posted by cathoo at 8:46 PM on January 5, 2010

I realize this is a bit fundamental, but I'll bring it up anyway because nobody else has: are you diligent about washing your hands after using the bathroom, and just before meals? If not, try that along with the food diary and getting to a doctor to test for parasites/bacteria that might be in your system.

For what it's worth, I had one year like this, getting violently ill (8-12 hours vomiting plus recovery time) in three different states (two while traveling, one at home.) The only common denominator was shellfish, which I now avoid more or less religiously, despite it never giving me problems before -- and the problem hasn't recurred (correlation, not necessarily causation, of course.) Since the onset of allergies can happen later in life, that food diary should go a long way toward helping you identify a potential allergen.
posted by davejay at 9:28 PM on January 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you everyone; this is very helpful. I realise nothing can replace actually going to the doctor, but this commentary has given me the necessary kick in the butt to actually go: I tend to err on the side of assuming I'm being a hypochondriac, and just needed the sanity check about whether I should be worried and if it could be anything other than just an overly sensitive stomach. I hadn't thought of all these possibilities, and simply having some sense about the space of possibilities is useful. I also appreciate the guidance about what sort of doctor to go to.
posted by forza at 10:21 PM on January 5, 2010

A simple and cheap and harmless thing that might help is some probiotic yogurt or supplements. Populating your gut with lots of happy bacteria might decrease your symptoms, and even if it doesn't work yogurt is a tasty and healthy treat.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:33 PM on January 5, 2010

I had my gallbladder out this year (three month old baby, no family or friends in town, good times!) and the attacks were generally around 4 - 6 hours after the trigger meal (which may be an hour or two after the 'last' meal. Intense agony (the pain when a stone was still lodged after the surgery was worse than labour), violent and prolific vomiting for a few hours.

So yeah, gallbladder could be it.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:48 AM on January 6, 2010

I linked to this a few weeks ago but it's good information nonetheless: Mayo clinic on food poisoning. The most common causes for food poisoning take a day or more to develop. My guess would be gallbladder as well, so I'll nth the checkup with a doctor.
posted by 6550 at 5:23 AM on January 6, 2010

I really do not know why so many people insist that you cannot get food poisoning within an hour of eating tainted food. That is total crap. Staph can cause food poisoning symptoms within an hour of eating tainted food, and it is not very uncommon.

That said, you really should go to the doctor -- can't hurt and could help. Feel better & I hope you get some answers!
posted by tastybrains at 1:16 PM on January 6, 2010

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