OverviewKey FactsSymptomsCausesTypesRisk factorsDiagnosisCelebs affectedPreventionSpecialist to visitTreatmentHome-careComplicationsAlternatives therapiesLiving withFAQsReferences
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Dysentery

Dysentery

Also known as Bloody Diarrhea, Shigellosis

Overview

Dysentery is a painful intestinal infection that causes loose and watery stools along with blood and mucus. It is a highly infectious disease that is caused by bacteria or parasites. Poor sanitation, poor hand hygiene, consuming  food and water contaminated with fecal matter and various other factors increase the chances of contracting the disease.


WHO report states that 165 million episodes of dysentery are estimated to occur each year, with a higher prevalence in tropical or developing countries, especially among children. Dysentery is also a common factor of mortality in children below 5 years, but it can affect people of all ages.


Antibiotics and antiparasitics along with supportive care with fluids and electrolytes are used to treat dysentery. The infection is highly contagious and can easily spread from the infected person to others. Hence it is very essential to follow good hygiene measures to control its spread.

Key Facts

Usually seen in
  • All age groups
Gender affected
  • Both men and women
Body part(s) involved
  • Large intestine
  • Small intestine
  • Rectum
  • Stomach
Prevalence
  • Worldwide: 165 million episodes (2016)
Mimicking Conditions
  • Diarrhea

  • Cholera

  • Ulcerative colitis

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

  • Hepatitis

Treatment
Specialists to consult
  • General physician

  • Gastroenterologist

  • Pediatrician

Symptoms Of Dysentery

The symptoms of dysentery may take up to 3 days to manifest once the person contracts the infection. A person suffering from a bout of dysentery will generally experience the following symptoms:

  1. Loose, watery stools

  2. Frequent bouts of defecation

  3. Stools with blood and mucus​

  4. Pain while passing stools

  5. Cramping and painful sensation in the stomach

  6. Bouts of nausea and vomiting

  7. Fever and chills

  8. Weakness

  9. Dehydration

  10. Decreased urine output

  11. Dry skin and mucous membranes (such as dry mouth)

  12. Muscle cramps

  13. Weight loss

Causes Of Dysentery

Dysentery is a highly infectious disease that spreads via human-to-human transmission and most commonly via the hand-to-mouth route. It is usually caused by drinking water or eating food from sources contaminated with the organisms that cause the dysentery. 

Types Of Dysentery

There are two types of dysentery based on the organism that causes it:

1. Bacillary dysentery
Bacillary dysentery, as the name suggests, is caused by a bacterias.These bacterias include shigella (causes shigellosis), campylobacter (causes campylobacteriosis) and salmonella (causes salmonellosis). The frequency of each bacteria causing dysentery varies from region to region in the world. 

2. Amoebic dysentery
Amoebic dysentery, as the name suggests is caused by an amoeba (single-celled parasite) known as Entamoeba histolytica.

Risk Factors For Dysentery

Patients having dysentery have germs in their stools while they have diarrhea and for up to a week or two after the diarrhea has gone away. Dysentery is very contagious as just a small amount of germs can make someone contract the disease. People can get infected by:

  • Catching germs on their hands and then touching their food or mouth. This can happen by touching surfaces contaminated with germs from stool from a sick person, such as taps, toilet seats, flush handles etc or while changing the diaper of a sick child or taking care of a patient.

  • Eating foods that are raw, uncooked or prepared by someone who is sick with dysentery. Fruits and vegetables can also get contaminated if they are washed with dirty water or grown in soil polluted by human excreta.

  • Drinking water that is contaminated with stool containing the germs. There is a high risk if the water for household use isn't properly separated from waste water.

  • Swallowing infected water while swimming in a river, lake or public swimming pool.

  • Any sexual activity that involves direct anal-oral contact with an infected or recently recovered patient.


When you are sick with diarrhea you lose fluids and salts from the body at a fast pace, so it is important to take as much fluids as possible.

Diagnosis Of Dysentery

Often, dysentery can be confused with other conditions affecting the gastrointestinal tract. This is because there is considerable overlap in the presenting symptoms of dysentery with other diseases of the stomach and intestine.

Diagnostic lab tests: A diagnosis of dysentery is confirmed by detecting the presence of causative organisms, such as shigella or Entamoeba histolytica. stool examination R/M and culture stool are lab tests that detect the presence of microorganisms in a stool sample and determine their sensitivity to antibiotics. 

Supportive lab tests: Additional lab tests, such as complete blood count (CBC), may be performed to determine the level of infection in the body and rule out other causes that may cause similar symptoms.

Celebs affected

King Henry V
King Henry V of England passed away at the tender age of 36 years due to complications of dysentery

Prevention Of Dysentery

Dysentery can be prevented by following good hygiene practices, such as:

  • Always wash hands with soap and water before eating meals and after visiting the toilet.

  • Avoid roadside, uncooked, unhygienic food.

  • Thoroughly wash vegetables before cooking.

  • Do not eat raw food. When eating fruits or vegetables, always remove and discard their outer peel.

  • Drink only purified or mineral water.

  • Avoid ice if you are not sure it is made from clean water.

  • Do not use unhygienic toilets.

  • Avoid sharing towels and other personal care items.

Specialist To Visit

If you have symptoms of dysentery, you must seek medical intervention to prevent serious health complications. Sick children may need treatment under a pediatrician. Adult patients may need to seek medical care from:

  • General physician

  • Gastroenterologist

Consult India’s best doctors here from the comfort of your home.

Treatment Of Dysentery

The treatment for dysentery aims to provide supportive care and to destroy the causative organisms.

1. Antibiotics and antiparasitics

Depending upon the cause of dysentery, your doctor might recommend antibiotics or antiparasitics to treat the infection. Antibiotics are used in the treatment of bacterial dysentery or shigellosis whereas antiparasitic medications are used in the treatment of amoebic dysentery.

Examples of antibiotics & antiparasitics include:


2. Supportive care

  • Antipyretics such as paracetamol are used to treat fever occurring with dysentery.

  • Electrolyte supplements such as oral rehydration salts(ORS) are useful in the prevention and treatment of dehydration.

  • Anti-diarrhea drugs such as loperamide must not be used without a doctor’s recommendation as such medicines may worsen dysentery.

Home-care For Dysentery

Patients with dysentery must consume only light foods which are easy to digest and avoid oily or spicy foods. Raw fruits and vegetables must be thoroughly washed before consumption. Liquid foods, such as coconut water, buttermilk, etc., must be consumed in plenty to prevent dehydration.

If you are suffering from an episode of dysentery, you can do the following things to care for yourself at home:

  • Drink purified water only.

  • Keep yourself hydrated; drink plenty of water or electrolyte solutions.

  • Take an ample amount of rest.

  • When you start feeling better, eat light foods that are easy to digest.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before every meal and every time you visit the toilet.

During the episode of diarrhea, you should be cautious about what to have and what not to have. This is because while some foods are likely to be beneficial for you, certain foods may worsen your symptoms. 

Complications Of Dysentery

Severe dysentery can cause the following complications:

  • Extreme weakness and dehydration

  • Hypovolemic shock can occur when the body has lost too much of its fluid volume. Hypovolemic shock can cause a person to lose consciousness and even become comatose. It can even cause death if not treated in time.

  • Toxic megacolon is a serious and life-threatening condition in which the large intestine  distends excessively.

  • Secondary infections of the gastrointestinal tract

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding may occur from any part of the stomach or intestine. Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract causes stools to turn black.

  • Severely low levels of potassium which can cause life-threatening changes in heartbeat

  • Seizures

  • Postinfectious arthritis in which the patient can develop joint pain, eye irritation, and painful urination

  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a type of kidney damage in which the causative bacteria make a toxin that destroys red blood cells

  • In rare cases, amoebic dysentery can result in liver abscess ie.collection of pus in the liver or parasites spreading to the lungs or brain

  • Sepsis or spread of infection more commonly in people with weak immune systems due to disease (like HIV) or medical treatment (like chemotherapy for cancer) 

Alternative Therapies For Dysentery

The role of alternative therapies in the treatment of dysentery is limited. Dysentery is known as ‘Pravahika’ in Ayurveda. They help by eliminating the causative organism, facilitating normal absorption of nutrients in the intestine, and also stimulating digestive enzymes to aid easy digestion. These medicines must be taken as prescribed by an Ayurvedic practitioner.

Ayurvedic medicines found to be useful in the treatment of dysentery are: 

  • Kutajghan Vati
  • Bilvadi Churna with Takra
  • Chitrakadi Gutika

Living With Dysentery

Dysentery can be serious and can lead to life-threatening complications if left untreated. Hence it is very important to seek medical help as soon as possible. An episode of dysentery may leave a person feeling very weak and tired. One should rest at home and consume plenty of fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration.

At the same time it is very important to protect your family from dysentery as it is very contagious and can easily spread from person to person. You can follow the given tips to prevent passing on the infection to others:

  • Handwashing is of utmost importance to stop the spread of infection. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after going to the toilet. 

  • Clean toilet seats, flush handles, taps and sinks with detergent and hot water after use, followed by a household disinfectant.

  • Wash all dirty clothes, bedding and towels separately with hot water.

  • Until you've been completely free from any symptoms for at least 48 hours you should take the following precautions -

                1. If possible, stay isolated from your family 
                2. Stay away from work or school  
                3. Do not prepare food for others
                4. Do not go in a swimming pool
                5. Avoid sexual contact 


Dehydration caused by dysentery can be prevented and effectively treated by giving ORS. Here’s more on everything you need to know about ORS and its role in dehydration and diarrhea.

Frequently Asked Questions

References

  1. Zulfiqar H, Mathew G, Horrall S. Amebiasis. StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan.External Link
  2. Shigellosis. Centres for Disease Prevention and Control. External Link
  3. Amebiasis. Centres for Disease Prevention and Control. External Link
  4. Dans LF, Martínez EG. Amoebic dysentery. BMJ Clin Evid. 2007 Jan 1;2007:0918. External Link
  5. Shigellosis. World Health Organisation Guidelines. External Link
  6. Taneja N, Mewara A. Shigellosis: Epidemiology in India. Indian J Med Res. 2016 May;143(5):565-76. External Link
  7. Rotwar, *Dara S., Dixit, A. K., Mangal, A., & Jadhav, A. D. (2017). Therapeutic management of Pravahika (amoebic dysentery) through ayurvedic regimen: a case study. International Journal of Ayurveda and Pharma Research, 5(2). External Link
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