Dysentery is a gastrointestinal disease. Its causes include bacterial or parasitic infections. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, weight loss and stomach cramps. Your healthcare provider can diagnose dysentery with a stool culture. Treatment includes antibiotics.


Diarrhea may contain blood or mucus, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, an upset stomach, stomach cramps and a fever.
Dysentery is characterized by diarrhea, high fever, weight loss, an upset stomach and nausea and vomiting. If you have bacillary dysentery, your diarrhea may contain blood or mucus.

What is dysentery?

Dysentery is a gastrointestinal disease. It causes severe diarrhea that contains blood or mucus. There are two main types of dysentery:

  • Amoebic dysentery (amoebiasis): The parasite Entamoeba histolytica (E. histolytica) is one of the main causes of amoebic dysentery. Other parasites that cause amoebic dysentery include Balantidium coli (B. coli) and strongyloidiasis.
  • Bacillary dysentery: A bacterial infection causes bacillary dysentery. Some of the most common bacteria that cause bacillary dysentery include Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Escherichia coli (E. coli). Bacillary dysentery is the most common type of dysentery.

Without proper treatment, dysentery can be fatal. If you have any symptoms of dysentery, reach out to your healthcare provider.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Who does dysentery affect?

Anyone can get dysentery. It’s a more common condition in tropical areas of the world with poor water sanitation. Water sanitation is a process that cleans and purifies water, so it’s safe to drink.

You may also be more likely to get dysentery if you don’t practice good hygiene. You should always wash your hands after using the bathroom. If you don’t, you risk contaminating food, water and surfaces.

How common is dysentery?

Dysentery is common. According to studies, there are about 1.7 billion cases of dysentery every year in the world.


Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of dysentery?

Dysentery symptoms vary slightly according to what type of dysentery you have.

Amoebic dysentery

Most people who have amoebic dysentery don’t have any symptoms.

Mild symptoms of amoebic dysentery may include:

In rare cases, the parasite may move to other areas of your body and cause an abscess.

Bacillary dysentery

Symptoms of bacillary dysentery may include:

  • Diarrhea containing blood or mucus.
  • High fever.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Painful stomach cramps (abdominal pain).

If you have severe dysentery, complications may include extreme inflammation, widening (dilation) of your large intestine and acute kidney disease.

Does dysentery cause death?

Without proper treatment, dysentery may be fatal. It’s especially deadly to:

  • Young children.
  • People 50 years of age and older.
  • People who have dehydration or malnutrition.

What are the causes of dysentery?

The parasitic and bacterial infections that cause dysentery are very contagious. People usually transfer the parasite or bacteria to each other when poop (fecal matter) from an infected person gets into another person’s mouth. Transmission can occur during:

  • Food preparation by someone who doesn’t wash their hands or has poor hygiene.
  • Drinking contaminated water.
  • Sexual contact, especially involving the anus.

Bacillary dysentery occurs when foreign bacteria enter your body and the infection becomes severe. Some of the most common bacteria that cause bacillary dysentery include:

Amoebiasis occurs when a particular parasite enters your body.


Is dysentery contagious?

Yes, dysentery is very contagious. Amoebic dysentery usually spreads from contaminated food or water. It can also spread through oral-anal sexual contact.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is dysentery diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will diagnose dysentery. They’ll ask about your symptoms, conduct a physical exam and order tests.

What tests will be done to diagnose dysentery?

If your healthcare provider suspects you have dysentery, they’ll order a stool culture.

To conduct a stool culture, your healthcare provider will give you a special container and a disposable spoon. The next time you have to poop, you’ll place plastic wrap or newspaper across the rim of your toilet to collect your poop. You can also poop into a different container. You’ll then use the disposable spoon to collect a small sample, put it in the special container and return it to your healthcare provider.

Your healthcare provider will send your sample to a lab. There, lab workers will test your sample for the presence of bacteria, parasites or ova (parasite egg cells).

You may have to provide samples of your poop over several days.

Your healthcare provider may also recommend a sigmoidoscopy. A sigmoidoscopy can help your healthcare provider confirm the diagnosis or rule out other causes of your symptoms. During a sigmoidoscopy, your healthcare provider will use a special scope to examine the inside of your lower (sigmoid) colon and rectum.

Management and Treatment

What is the fastest way to cure dysentery?

If you have amebiasis, it’s important to rid your body of the parasite. Your healthcare provider will prescribe metronidazole (Flagyl®). This medication treats parasitic infections. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe antibiotics and recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat nausea, including bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol®).

If you have bacillary dysentery, most people feel better without treatment in a few days to a week. If you require medical attention, treatment may include antibiotics and IV fluids. In rare cases, you may need a blood transfusion.

How do I take care of myself?

If you have dysentery, it’s a good idea to:

  • Avoid antidiarrheal medications, like loperamide (Imodium Advanced®), which can worsen symptoms.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, which is a common side effect of diarrhea.
  • Take OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and fever. The most common NSAIDs include aspirin (Bayer®), acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Advil®).
  • Take OTC medications to treat nausea, including bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol®).

How soon after treatment will I feel better?

If you have amebiasis, most people feel better after about 14 days. If you have bacillary dysentery, you should feel better within a week.


How can I prevent dysentery?

The best way to prevent dysentery is to practice good hygiene. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and running water after going to the bathroom and before handling or eating food. Other ways to prevent dysentery include:

  • Don’t share personal items with other people, including toothbrushes, drinking glasses and towels.
  • Don’t use water unless you’re sure it’s sanitized or sterile (free of germs). This includes water for drinking, cooking and brushing your teeth. Use bottled water or chlorine tablets to sterilize water. You can also sanitize it by bringing it to a rolling (bubbling) boil for at least one minute.
  • Stay away from people who have dysentery.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables with clean running water. Peel them before eating them.
  • Thoroughly cook all food.

If you’re traveling to an area where dysentery is common, it’s also a good idea to avoid ice cubes, fountain drinks, water or soft drinks that aren’t in a sealed container and unpasteurized dairy and juice products. Pasteurization is a process that kills bacteria.

How can I avoid spreading dysentery?

If you have dysentery, the following tips can help prevent you from spreading the infection:

  • Avoid other people.
  • Don’t have sexual contact with anyone else.
  • Don’t prepare food for other people.
  • Don’t swim.
  • Regularly clean toilets, sinks and door handles with disinfecting products.
  • Wash your laundry in hot water at temperatures at least 130°F (60°C).

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have dysentery?

If you have amebiasis, with proper diagnosis and treatment, your outlook is good. You should feel better after about 14 days. If you don’t get treatment, amebiasis can cause death.

If you have bacillary dysentery, most people feel better within a week without treatment. Others may develop serious complications which can be life-threatening. If you have dysentery symptoms for more than a few days, contact your healthcare provider.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Talk to your healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t go away in a few days, worsen over time or don’t respond to treatment. Seek medical attention right away if you have signs of dehydration, including:

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

  • How do you know that I have dysentery?
  • Do I have amoebic dysentery or bacillary dysentery?
  • How much should I drink to avoid dehydration?
  • What liquids should I drink?
  • Are there any foods I should avoid?
  • What medications do you recommend?

Additional Common Questions

What’s the difference between dysentery and cholera?

Dysentery and cholera are gastrointestinal diseases. The difference between them is that they have different causes.

There are two main types of dysentery: amoebiasis and bacillary dysentery. Parasites cause amoebiasis, including E. histolytica, B. coli and strongyloidiasis. Bacteria cause bacillary dysentery, including Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli.

The bacteria Vibrio cholera (V. cholera) causes cholera.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Dysentery is a gastrointestinal disease. Its primary symptom is diarrhea, which may be bloody or contain mucus. Causes include bacterial or parasitic infections. Though many people with dysentery feel better after a few days without medical treatment, dysentery can be fatal, especially to young children, people over 50 and dehydrated or malnourished people. If you have a parasitic infection or other serious complications, it’s important to see your healthcare provider.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/15/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Appointments 216.444.6503