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Dysentery is caused by infection of the intestine by bacteria or a single celled organism called amoeba. This condition can be life-threatening, if left untreated. It is a very common disease in developing nations. Let us know more about dysentery in the following paragraphs.

What is Dysentery?

Dysentery is the infection of the intestine, especially the colon. It leads to severe diarrhea accompanied by blood and mucus in stools. In some cases, people complain of severe pain in the abdomen and stomach cramps. Dysentery can be easily treated. However, it still leads to high mortality rate, especially among children.

Types of Dysentery

There are two types of dysentery that can strike people. These types depend on the organisms that cause dysentery. It can either be caused by an amoeba Entamoeba histolytica, called as amoebic dysentery. When it caused by a bacterium called Shigella, it is called as bacterial dysentery.

Causes of Dysentery

Dysentery can be caused by amoeba or bacterial infection. This infection is passed on to a healthy gut by contaminated water or food. It can also spread by flies sitting on edible foods, contaminated door handles, knobs, toilet seats, toys, pens, etc.

Once the organism enters the intestine, it leads to rise in body temperature, muscle cramps, etc. Shigella releases cytotoxins that damage the intestinal tissues. Virus, on the other hand, takes over the metabolic machinery of the cells leading to cell death. The action of different organisms leads to decrease in absorption of nutrients, passing excessive water and minerals in stools.


The symptoms of dysentery can either be mild or severe. When the symptoms are mild, one suffers from:

  • Mild pain in the stomach
  • Loose motions

These symptoms last for about 3 to 7 days. In case of severe dysentery, the person may:

  • Severe abdominal cramps or pain
  • Frequent and urgent need to defecate
  • Foul smelling diarrhea
  • Passing liquid feces with mucus, blood and pus
  • Fever
  • Delirium
  • Temporary lactose intolerance


Diagnosis includes taking the medical history of the patient. The patient may suffer from severe or mild symptoms. He may pass about a liter of fluid in an hour. Vomiting, muscle pain, weight loss is also signs of dysentery. The skin, mouth and lips may appear dry due to dehydration. Stool samples may be given for culture to identify the organism causing dysentery.


Oral rehydration therapy is the main line of treatment for dysentery. Once it has been established by stool culture that the causative agent is either a bacteria or amoeba, medications should be given. In case of bacterial infection, antibiotics like ciprofloxacin or TMP-SMX are administered. In case of amoebic dysentery, metronidazole is prescribed. Other drugs such as paromomycin or diloxanide are given to kill the parasite.


When treatment is imparted on time, dysentery is cured within 10 days. In about a month, the patient is fully recovered. However, if left untreated, it can lead to extreme dehydration, rise in complications and in some cases death.


Maintain a little bit of hygiene will help in prevention of dysentery. This includes:

  • Washing hands properly with a soap after using the toilet.
  • Washing hands before and after having food
  • Use of separate towels for every person
  • Wash hands before cooking or handling food
  • ash fruits and vegetables properly before consuming
  • Avoid road-side food
  • Wash hands after attending an infected person

This was about dysentery. It is not a serious condition, but can lead to a lot of complications. Make sure you seek your doctor’s advice, if you observe loose motions with mucus and blood.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 12, 2015

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