Diseases Home > Botulism Diagnosis

When making a botulism diagnosis, the doctor asks questions about foods or drinks consumed recently, current medical conditions, and current medicines. A physical exam is also performed, including eye and neurological tests. To confirm a botulism diagnosis, a blood or stool sample is sent to a specialized laboratory for analysis. Since botulism occurs rarely and its symptoms are similar to those of other diseases, making a botulism diagnosis can be difficult.

Botulism Diagnosis: An Introduction

In order to make a botulism diagnosis, the doctor will ask a number of questions about:
  • The food or drinks you have consumed recently
  • Any current medical conditions you may have
  • Your current medications.
As part of making a botulism diagnosis, the doctor will also perform a physical exam, looking for signs of botulism. This exam will include eye and neurological tests. If the doctor suspects botulism, he or she will send a blood or stool sample to a specialized laboratory for analysis.

Challenges Inherent in Making a Botulism Diagnosis

Because botulism occurs rarely and the symptoms of botulism are similar to those of other diseases, making an accurate diagnosis can be challenging. Botulism is frequently misdiagnosed.
Other diseases that can appear similar to botulism include:
Special tests may be needed to exclude these other conditions. These tests can include:
  • A brain scan (CT scan or MRI)
  • Lumbar puncture to examine spinal fluid
  • Nerve conduction test (electromyography or EMG)
  • Tensilon test for myasthenia.
A botulism diagnosis can also be difficult, because the lab test used to make a diagnosis can take up to 4 days to complete, and is available in only a few laboratories.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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