Traveler’s Diarrhea

What is traveler’s diarrhea?

Traveler’s diarrhea is an infection that causes frequent loose or watery bowel movements. You may get when you travel to another country. High-risk areas include some parts of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

What is the cause?

Traveler’s diarrhea usually happens when you eat foods or drink fluids (including ice) that have viruses, parasites, or bacteria in them.

Sometimes diarrhea while you are traveling is caused by the stress of traveling, jet lag, a different diet, or other things, like stomach flu.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Frequent loose, unformed bowel movements, as many as 3 to 10 a day
  • Belly pain
  • Bloating and gas
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Weakness

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tell your provider about your travels:

  • Where you have been
  • If you drank water from wells or from streams
  • What food or drinks you have had

Your provider will also ask about any medicines you may have taken to treat the diarrhea.

Tests may include:

  • Test of a sample of your bowel movements
  • Blood or urine tests

How is it treated?

Drink enough liquids to keep your urine light yellow in color.

If you have severe diarrhea, your body can lose too much fluid and you can get dehydrated. Dehydration can be very dangerous, especially for children and older adults. You may also be losing minerals that your body needs to keep working normally. Your healthcare provider may recommend an oral rehydration solution (ORS), which is a drink that replaces fluids and minerals. You can buy an ORS at drug and grocery stores. Follow package directions for mixing powders or taking frozen products. Drink small amounts over several hours if you have vomiting along with diarrhea.

If you don’t have an ORS, you can drink clear broth or water mixed with fruit juice. These are easy for your body to absorb. Avoid concentrated fruit juices, dark sodas, milk, and milk products. They are not as easily absorbed and usually have too much sugar.

Your provider may prescribe an antibiotic if your diarrhea is caused by bacteria or parasites.

You can buy nonprescription medicine to treat diarrhea at the drugstore. If you use it, make sure you use only the dose recommended on the package. Don’t use the medicine for more than 2 days without checking with your healthcare provider. If you have chronic health problems, always check with your provider before you use any medicine for diarrhea.

Traveler’s diarrhea usually does not last long. It often stops without treatment in 1 to 5 days. Rarely, it lasts 2 to 3 weeks.

How can I take care of myself?

If you get diarrhea:

  • Rest your stomach and bowel but make sure that you keep getting fluids. You can do this by not eating anything and by drinking clear liquids only. Clear liquids include water, weak tea, fruit juice mixed half and half with water, Jell-O, or clear soft drinks without caffeine (like lemon-lime soda). Stir soda until the bubbles are gone.
  • Avoid liquids that are acidic, like orange juice, or caffeinated, like coffee.
  • You may eat soft, plain foods. Good choices are soda crackers, toast, plain noodles, or rice, cooked cereal, applesauce, and bananas. Eat small amounts slowly and avoid foods that are hard to digest or may irritate your stomach, such as foods with acid (like tomatoes or oranges), spicy or fatty food, meats, and raw vegetables. You may be able to go back to your normal diet in a few days.
  • If you have cramps or belly pain, it may help to put a hot water bottle or heating pad on your belly. Cover the hot water bottle with a towel or set the heating pad on low so you don’t burn your skin.
  • Don’t take aspirin, ibuprofen, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) without checking first with your healthcare provider. NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take this medicine for more than 10 days.

How can I prevent traveler’s diarrhea?

If you plan to travel to a place where you think you might get traveler’s diarrhea:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your plans.
  • Take several packets of oral rehydration solution with you.
  • Ask your provider if you should take a nonprescription medicine that prevents diarrhea while you are traveling.

While traveling, follow these guidelines:

  • Don’t drink untreated water. Carbonated water and soft drinks, bottled water, wine, and beer are usually safe, if without ice. Do not add ice that has been made from tap water.
  • When you are camping or hiking, drink water only after it has been purified with boiling, proper filtration, or disinfectant tablets (available at most sporting or camping stores).
  • Avoid food and drinks from street vendors.
  • Eat only foods that are cooked and still hot, or fruits and vegetables that you peel yourself.
  • Do not eat dishes with raw or partially cooked fish or shellfish, such as sushi or ceviche. Fully cooked fish and shellfish are safe.
  • Brushing your teeth with toothpaste and untreated water is usually safe. Most toothpastes contain antibacterial substances. Do not swallow the water.
  • Avoid uncooked dairy products.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-20
Last reviewed: 2014-10-20
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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