September 22, 2022

Bowel Infections in the Elderly

Written by: Omnia Tantawi, MSc

Bowel infections in older people are very common, but they can be serious. They can cause dehydration and weight loss, and if you become too weak to look after yourself properly, you might even die. If you think that you or an older person close to you is showing signs of bowel infection, it's important to get medical advice as soon as possible.
 

What Causes Bowel Infections in the Elderly?

Bowel infections in the elderly can be dangerous. The most common causes of bowel infections in the elderly include:1,2

  • Antibiotics
  • Poor diet and nutrition (contaminated food or water)
  • Viruses, bacteria, or parasites
  • Being in close contact with someone infected

 

To understand why older people are particularly at risk of getting diarrhea, it's important to understand that their immune systems don't work as well as they used to. The reason for this is that over time, our immune systems gradually become less effective at fighting off germs. This means that elderly people have a higher chance of developing infections than younger people do.3

 

The second main reason why elderly people get diarrhea more often than other age groups is because their habits and surroundings may have changed. As we get older, there are more opportunities for us to pick up new germs from places like public restrooms or from eating food that has been prepared by someone else (like in restaurants).3

 

What are the Most Common Bowel Infections?

Bowel infections differ depending on the source of the disease, as mentioned before, this can include bacterial, viral, or parasitic culprits.

The most common bowel infections caused by bacteria are:

  • Campylobacter,
  • Salmonella, and
  • Shigella

 

The most common bowel infections caused by viruses are:

  • Rotavirus, and
  • Norovirusus

 

The most common bowel infections caused by parasites are:

  • Giardia, and
  • Cryptosporidiosis

 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Bowel Infections?

A bowel infection is a bacterial or viral illness that can affect the intestines. The most common symptoms of a bowel infection are diarrhea, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Occasionally blood may be present in your stool. Bowel infections often result in dehydration if not treated promptly with fluids by mouth or intravenously (IV).

 

There are many signs and symptoms of bowel infections in the elderly. These include:4

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Blood in stool
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches

 

If you have diarrhea that lasts longer than 72 hours and doesn't go away with treatment (such as drinking lots of fluids or taking an anti-diarrheal medicine), see your doctor.

 

How is Bowel Infections Diagnosed in the Elderly?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, your medical history, and your family history. The doctor may do a physical examination to check your abdomen, pelvis, and perineum (the area between the anus and vulva or scrotum). This can help them to see if there is any inflammation or infection that is causing symptoms.

 

Other routine procedures conducted include the following:

  • Faecal testing (where they test your stool for abnormalities or pathogens)
  • Blood tests
  • Endoscopy (a type of test that uses a tool to look inside the intestine)

 

Treatment for Bowel Infections in the Elderly

Treatment for bowel infections in the elderly should be handled by a doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics for you to take at home. Preventive measures against future occurrences include eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise each day, as well as avoiding using antibiotics unless necessary.5

Moreover, treating diarrhea as one of the main symptoms of bowel infections is a necessary step, this can be achieved through drinking plenty of fluids to rehydrate and make up for the loss of fluids from the body.
 

Bowel Infections Prevention

A better strategy to combat bowel infections would be to prevent them from occurring in the first place, this can be accomplished through the following practices:

  •  Make sure that you cook food well, especially eggs and meat
  •  Wash your hands regularly especially before eating or drinking or touching your face
  • Avoid being in close proximity to people who have bowel infections and make sure to not share any utensils or personal belongings with them
  • If you’re traveling to developing countries make sure to drink only bottled water rather than using the sink
  • Avoid eating raw food

 

Conclusion

Many elderly people suffer from bowel infections, but they don’t know if they’ve got one or what to do about it. Therefore, we recommend that if you or your loved ones experience any of the previously mentioned symptoms, go and seek your doctor’s consultation immediately to avoid any unwanted complications.

 

References

  1. Bowel infections | healthdirect [Internet]. [cited 2022 Aug 20]. Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/bowel-infections
  2. Australia H. Bowel infections. 2021 [cited 2022 Aug 20]; Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/bowel-infections
  3. Khan N, Vallarino C, Lissoos T, Darr U, Luo M. Risk of Infection and Types of Infection among Elderly Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Retrospective Database Analysis. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. 2020 Feb 11;26(3):462–8. https://academic.oup.com/ibdjournal/article/26/3/462/5455214
  1. Lin E, Lin K, Katz S. Serious and Opportunistic Infections in Elderly Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Gastroenterology & Hepatology [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Aug 20];15(11):593. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC6883733/
  2. Bennett RG. Gastrointestinal infections among the elderly. G. Balint, Antala B, Carty C, Mabieme JMA, Amar IB, Kaplanova A, editors. Bailliere’s Clinical Infectious Diseases [Internet]. 1998 Jan 1 [cited 2022 Aug 20];5(1):83–103. Available from: https://jhu.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/gastrointestinal-infections-among-the-elderly-3
Article written by Omnia Tantawi, MSc
Omnia is an Assistant Lecturer and Medical Researcher from Egypt. She’s an integral part in many research projects that proved promising in revolutionizing the future of Medicine. As a Research Scholar, she’s particularly interested in Personalized & Molecular Medicine because she believes that this is the prospect of the healthcare industry and can be applied to all medical and pharmaceutical specializations. But at heart she remains a wordsmith, so she currently works as a Medical Writer. This transition was fairly easy with an Academic Medical background, ability to adapt to different audiences and passion for research and creation. She always takes the most complex or mundane topics and turn it into a must-read with an unparalleled style. In her free time, she likes to read books, tunes in Netflix or enjoys the outdoors.

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