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Travelers’ Diarrhea: Prevention & Treatment

Doctorpedia Editorial Team Doctorpedia Editorial Team April 24, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Good news first–traveler’s diarrhea is not the end of the world, or even your vacation. You can keep any impact on your plans to a minimum with a few simple steps to be taken before and during any cases of traveler’s diarrhea.  

 

Treatment

 

Although extremely unpleasant, traveler’s diarrhea is not fatal, and one can usually recover inside a week with little to no treatment or medication. If you do come down with it, the best thing to do is to increase your fluid consumption to counteract the liquids lost during bowel movements. You may want to consider using fluids that contain a bit of glucose, such as diluted apple juice. This will help you maintain your fluid levels. Change your diet to incorporate bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast (the BRAT diet) to give your bowels a rest until they recover. 

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Foods to Eat for Diarrhea

Foods to Eat for Diarrhea

If it appears that just waiting it out isn’t going to work, there are some pharmaceutical products you may want to consider. Antimotility drugs, such as Imodium, can slow your metabolism and reduce the diarrhea. Two tablets of Pepto-Bismol four times a day have been found to be a reliable means of recovering from traveler’s diarrhea or preventing its onset. (Remember that Pepto-Bismol can turn your stool dark, even black.) Similar medications in varying strengths are, generally speaking, readily available. Check with your doctor before leaving to find one suitable for your personal status, especially if you are pregnant or suffer from allergies or other pre-existing conditions. 

 

As it is a bacterial condition, antibiotics can be of some use in suppressing traveler’s diarrhea. These should be taken exclusively under qualified medical supervision or recommendation and are needed only in the severest of cases.

 

If you experience fever, lethargy, nausea, and/or vomiting, contact a healthcare professional immediately to rule out something more severe than simple traveler’s diarrhea. 

 

Prevention

 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or so they say. The best way to treat traveler’s diarrhea is by heading it off completely. Because it is caused by bacteria, adhering to some common hygiene protocols can go a long way towards keeping you safe. 

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Diarrhea - Treatment

Diarrhea - Treatment

Among the most common causes of traveler’s diarrhea is contaminated water; this is especially noteworthy for this condition, because if you have traveler’s diarrhea, you should be drinking more water–make sure it isn’t contaminated or you will make yourself worse! Shared utensils, such as refilled bottles or pitchers, can also serve to transmit bacteria. You can protect yourself by drinking from a personal water bottle and insisting that all beverages be still sealed and opened only in your presence. Carbonated beverages are a particularly good choice, as it is much more difficult to simulate a carbonated drink being newly opened. 

 

Produce tends to be washed in unsafe water and may be contaminated itself. Buying fresh vegetables and handling them yourself is a good way to keep safe; avoid green salads as well, as these could still be contaminated and will not have the added precaution of having been cooked. 

 

Cooking your own food can be a challenge while traveling, but it is the best way to make sure that your food is fully cooked or kept chilled under sanitary conditions. Try to find out what local food looks like when fully cooked, and check any dishes you order to make sure they are not underdone. When eating out, you may also want to wash silverware yourself to guarantee that it has been properly cleaned since the last diner. 

 

A final way to keep safe is to read up on your destination; certain regions of the world have known risks of traveler’s diarrhea, and knowing whether or not you will be in such an area is the first step towards keeping yourself safe. 

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