Campylobacter - Treatment for adults

Authored by Dr Mary Harding, 03 Jun 2016

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Laurence Knott, 03 Jun 2016

Symptoms often settle within a few days or so as your immune system usually clears the infection. Occasionally, admission to hospital is needed if symptoms are severe or if complications develop (see below).

The following are commonly advised until symptoms ease:

Fluids - have lots to drink

The aim is to prevent lack of fluid in the body (dehydration) or to treat dehydration if it has developed. (Note: if you suspect that you are dehydrated, you should contact a doctor.)

  • As a rough guide, drink at least 200 mls after each watery stool (bout of diarrhoea).
  • This extra fluid is in addition to what you would normally drink. For example, an adult will normally drink about two litres a day but more in hot countries. The '200 mls after each watery stool' is in addition to this usual amount that you would drink.
  • If you are sick (vomit), wait 5-10 minutes and then start drinking again but more slowly. For example, a sip every 2-3 minutes but making sure that your total intake is as described above.
  • You will need to drink even more if you are dehydrated. A doctor will advise on how much to drink if you are dehydrated.

For most adults, fluids drunk to keep hydrated should mainly be water, Also, ideally, include some fruit juice and soups. It is best not to have drinks that contain a lot of sugar, such as cola or pop, as they can sometimes make diarrhoea worse.

Rehydration drinks are recommended for people who are frail, or over the age of 60, or who have underlying health problems. They are made from sachets that you can buy from pharmacies. (The sachets are also available on prescription.) You add the contents of the sachet to water. Rehydration drinks provide a good balance of water, salts, and sugar. The small amount of sugar and salt helps the water to be absorbed better from the gut (intestines) into the body. They do not stop or reduce diarrhoea. Do not use home-made salt/sugar drinks, as the quantity of salt and sugar has to be exact.

It used to be advised to 'starve' for a while if you had gastroenteritis. However, now it is advised to eat small, light meals if you can. Be guided by your appetite. You may not feel like food and most adults can do without food for a few days. Eat as soon as you are able - but don't stop drinking. If you do feel like eating, avoid fatty, spicy or heavy food at first. Plain foods such as wholemeal bread and rice are good foods to try eating first.

Antidiarrhoeal medicines are not usually necessary. However, a medicine called loperamide may be advised in some situations. For example, to help you over a special event such as a wedding, or if you have difficulty reaching the toilet quickly. Loperamide works by slowing down your gut's activity and it can reduce the number of trips that you need to make to the toilet. You can buy loperamide from pharmacies. The adult dose of loperamide is two capsules at first. This is followed by one capsule after each time you pass some diarrhoea, up to a maximum of eight capsules in 24 hours. You should not take loperamide for longer than five days.

Note: although loperamide is usually safe, there have been reports of very serious gut problems developing in some people who have taken loperamide. These problems were mainly in people who had severe inflammation of the gut. So, do not use loperamide or any other antidiarrhoeal medicine if you pass blood or mucus with the diarrhoea or if you have a high temperature (fever). Also, people with certain conditions should not take loperamide. Pregnant women should not take loperamide. Therefore, to be safe, read the leaflet that comes with the medicine.

Paracetamol or ibuprofen is useful to ease a high temperature or headache.

As with children, a course of antibiotic medicine is sometimes needed to treat campylobacter if the infection is severe. This might be necessary if symptoms are very bad, or if the infection is not improving as expected. For example if symptoms are still persisting after one week. It may also be needed if your immune system is not working as well as normal - for example, due to chemotherapy or if you have an illness such as AIDS.

Further reading and references

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