Dysentery: Overview

Alternative names: Amoebic dysentery is also known as amebiasis.  Dysentery is commonly misspelt as dysentary.

Dysentery is a more serious form of diarrhea, where the stools are tinged with blood and mucus.  The diarrhea can be quite severe, characterized by colicky pains and frequent visits to the toilet.  Stools can be passed as often as fifteen to thirty times per day.  The onset is typically sudden, accompanied by a high fever and thirst.  The illness causes great fatigue and depletion of strength.  Dehydration is a serious side-effect, especially if the person becomes too weak to drink enough liquids.

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The diarrhea typical of dysentery is caused by an inflammation of the colon due to infection by one of a number of organisms, including bacteria, parasites and viruses.  The infection is typically spread by eating contaminated food, or from direct contact with an infected person.

The two most common types of dysentery are those caused by shigella bacteria and by ameba parasites.  In the dysentery caused by shigella bacteria, flies transfer the bacteria from infected feces to food in areas where hygiene is poor.  Handling food also passes on bacteria to others.

Amebic Dysentery is an intestinal illness caused by a microscopic parasite called Entamoeba histolytica.  Anyone can get amebiasis, but it is recognized more often in people arriving from tropical or subtropical areas, individuals in institutions for the developmentally disabled and homosexual males.

Causes and Development

Unlike infection from shigella, amebic dysentery only occurs in hot climates.  The ameba parasite is spread via contaminated water, raw food grown on contaminated soil and, more rarely, contact with an infected person.  Infection can occur from contact with persons who have little or no signs of illness but, as carriers, can pass on the disease.  Both of these types of dysentery are more common in areas of poor sanitation.  While traveling in tropical climates, extra care should be taken regarding food, drink and personal hygiene.

Amebiasis is contracted by swallowing the cyst stage of the parasite in contaminated food or water.  It can also be spread by person-to-person contact.  Infected people are the only sources of the parasite: fecal material from infected people may contaminate water or food which may serve as a vehicle to infect others.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of amebic dysentery are quite mild, with constipation and diarrhea alternating, combined with some intestinal cramping and gas.  People exposed to this parasite may experience mild or severe symptoms or no symptoms at all.  Fortunately, most exposed people do not become seriously ill.  The mild form of amebiasis includes nausea, loose stools, weight loss, abdominal tenderness and occasional fever.  Rarely, the parasite will invade the body beyond the intestines and cause a more serious infection, such as a liver abscess.  The symptoms may appear from a few days to a few months after exposure but usually within two to four weeks.  Some people may carry the parasite for weeks to years, often without symptoms.

Diagnosis and Tests

Diagnosis is usually through examination of stools under a microscope.  Occasionally, several stool samples must be obtained because the number of amoeba changes from day to day.

Treatment and Prevention

Specific antibiotics such as metronidazole can be prescribed by a doctor to treat amebiasis.

Generally, it is not necessary to exclude an infected person from work or school.  Casual contact at work or school is unlikely to transmit the disease.  Special precautions may be needed by food handlers or children enrolled in day care settings.

The most important precautions are careful handwashing after each toilet visit and proper disposal of sewage.  Homosexual males should refrain from intimate contact until effectively treated.

General Recommendations for Dysentery
The first concern in treating dysentery is to compensate for the sometimes life-threatening loss of fluid and electrolytes due to the extreme diarrhea.  Warm vegetable broths will replace water and minerals and provide other nutrients.  If the kidneys are not inflamed, include parsley.  Its etheric oil apiol stimulates the kidneys, promoting the elimination of the toxins causing the disease.  Garlic should also be part of the broth, since it helps kill parasites.

In areas where the safety of the water supply is uncertain, drink only bottled water and avoid ice-cubes.  Papaya skin and seeds contain a substance that destroys parasites and can be chewed as a preventive measure.  When in the tropics, eat only fruit and vegetables that you can peel.  Disinfect the skin of the fruit before you peel.

Supplements should help the body rid itself of the bacteria or parasites involved.  Garlic and grapefruit seed extract both have strong antiparasitic and antibacterial properties and can be taken over long time periods, if necessary.  Garlic capsules (3 capsules three times daily) are a simple and odorless alternative to eating raw garlic.  Grapefruit seed extract is also odorless and available in both tablet (3 capsules three times daily) and liquid form.

Lactobacillus acidophilus (3 capsules or 1 tsp daily) and other types of healthy bacteria treat the infection naturally by re-establishing the intestinal flora.  These are particularly helpful for treating amebic dysentery, as well as other bacterial forms of diarrhea.  All of the above can be taken for prevention as well as for treatment.  During the diarrhea, charcoal tablets help bind toxins and slow the diarrhea.

Other suggestions:

  • Peppermint and chamomile tea will help heal inflamed, irritated intestinal walls and alleviate pain.  Add 5 drops of peppermint oil to the tea for enhanced action.
  • Goldenseal relieves diarrhea caused by a bacterial infection and helps stop intestinal bleeding.  Take 10 drops of tincture in liquid, three times daily for two days.
  • Slippery elm bark is extremely beneficial and healing to the intestinal tract.  Add 1 tsp.  of powdered slippery elm bark to apple sauce to make it more palatable for a child.  Take three times daily.
  • Bayberry root bark destroys harmful bacteria and contains the alkaloid berberine which has the ability to kill parasites.
  • Take 1 tbsp.  of wormwood in water twice daily to kill intestinal worms.
  • Silverweed relieves various stomach complaints, especially dysentery.  Combine with peppermint for improved effect.
  • Grape leaves are good for chronic dysentery.

Choose one of the below in a 6c strength repeating hourly for three to six doses, then four times daily.  Continue until the symptoms disappear or for two weeks.  One dose is 2 tablets under the tongue.

Arsenicum album is often used for diarrhea.  The symptoms are quite violent, the pain typically burning in character.  The blood- and mucus-filled diarrhea is accompanied by anxiety, weakness and restlessness.  The person is chilly, usually thirsty for small sips of water, and the symptoms are worse at night.

Phosphorus is the second choice for similar cases with terrible burning pains and anxiety, bloody stools and great weakness.  Phosphorus will help if there is a feeling as though the anus is open, allowing for an involuntary passage of stools.  Typically, there is great thirst for very cold water.

Veratrum album should be used in similarly violent cases, where the stools look like rice water and expel quickly.  A cold sweat is typical.  Vomiting and diarrhea often occur simultaneously.  The person is weak, chilly and thirsty for large quantities of water.

Tissue salts will help replace lost minerals due to excessive bowel elimination.  Take 4 tablets three times daily under the tongue, or hourly if the pain and diarrhea are acute.

  • Ferr phos should be used in the beginning stages, in alternation with Kali mur every thirty minutes.  Ferr phos helps subdue the inflammatory pain.
  • Kali mur is specifically for the slimy, bloody stools that coincide with cutting pain and constant urging.
  • If cramping pains are still present, Mag phos is useful.


The main danger of an amebic dysentery is involvement of the liver, and can lead to hepatitis, cysts and abscesses.  These liver problems can remain dormant for many years.

Conditions that suggest Dysentery:

Symptoms - Gas-Int - General

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Risk factors for Dysentery:

Symptoms - Gas-Int - General

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