Botulism is a rare but serious condition caused by toxins from bacteria called Clostridium botulinum.
Botulism comes in three main forms:
Because all types of botulism can potentially cause death, all types of botulism are considered medical emergencies.
Signs and symptoms of food-borne botulism typically begin between 12 and 36 hours after the toxin gets into your body. If infant botulism is related to food, such as honey, problems will generally begin within this time frame, too. However, the symptoms of wound botulism typically start about 10 days after you're infected by the bacteria.
Food-borne and wound botulism
Certain signs and symptoms usually aren't present with botulism, including no elevation in blood pressure or heart rate, no confusion and no fever. However, fever is sometimes present with wound botulism.
When to see a doctor
Are there benefits to botulinum toxin?
Botulinum toxin has been used to reduce facial wrinkles by preventing contraction of muscles beneath the skin, and for medical conditions, such as eyelid spasms and severe underarm sweating. However, there have been rare occurrences of serious side effects, such as muscle paralysis extending beyond the treated area, with the use of botulinum toxin for medical reasons.
Because it affects muscle control throughout your body, botulinum toxin can cause many complications. The most immediate danger is that you won't be able to breathe, which is the most common cause of death in botulism. Other complications may include:
Preparing for your appointment
You may first see your primary care doctor. However, you'll likely be sent to the hospital for immediate treatment. At the hospital, you'll probably also see a doctor who specializes in neurology (neurologist) or infectious diseases.
What you can do
For botulism, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions any time you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose botulism, your doctor will check you for signs of muscle weakness or paralysis, such as drooping eyelids and a weak voice. Your doctor will also ask about the foods you've eaten in the past few days, and ask if you may have been exposed to the bacteria through a wound. A blood test can confirm the presence of the toxin.
In cases of possible infant botulism, the doctor may ask if the child has eaten honey recently and has had problems such as constipation and sluggishness.
Analysis of stool or vomit for evidence of the toxin may help confirm an infant or food-borne botulism diagnosis, but because these tests may take days, your doctor's clinical examination is the primary means of diagnosis.
Treatments and drugs
For cases of food-borne botulism, doctors sometimes clear out the digestive system by inducing vomiting and giving medications to induce bowel movements. If you have botulism in a wound, a doctor may need to remove infected tissue surgically.
Antitoxin is not, however, recommended for cases of infant botulism, since it doesn't affect the disease-causing germs in the baby's digestive system. A treatment called botulism immune globulin is used to treat infants.
Use proper canning techniques
Prepare and store food safely
Last Updated: 2010-03-27
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