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Traveler's Diarrhea: Effects, Prevention and Treatment

Updated on June 3, 2014

Though the word Traveler's is written in the possessive form it is nothing anyone chooses to own, let alone bring back from a wonderful vacation. But unfortunately it does exist and can cause enough problems to be more than annoying. In Mexico it's known as Moctezuma's revenge, in Egypt, the Cairo Two-Step. In India it's been given the name Delhi Belly and in the far east this undesirable intestinal upset goes by the name of Hong Kong Dong. Whatever you want to call it, it equals bad news for a traveler. It is not uncommon for a beginning or seasoned traveler to be hit with this dilemma. In some cases it might just be hard to ignore. Though by taking certain precautions one can avoid Traveler's Diarrhea from disrupting their hiatus.

Why Do I Have This?

Perhaps it is something you ate while on vacation? If you find yourself with Traveler's Diarrhea, it can result from ingesting anything that may contain a bacteria that your body may not be used to. The most common bacterium that causes travelers' diarrhea is Enterotoxigenic E. Coli, one of six classes of Enterovirulent E. Coli. It is very tempting to try new things and be adventurous while in a different country. This is no different when it comes to trying different delicacies. Which is okay but be sure to do it with a bit of digestive common sense. You always have to keep in mind that other countries have different types of bacteria whether it's good bacteria (which is a thing) or bad bacteria, that the stomachs of locals can handle but your foreign tummy might not be able to do so. It doesn't mean that the country is dirty, in most cases it simply means that they have a bacteria that not everyone is used to ingesting or having within their system. For example, some countries may use unpasteurized milk in their products, which can contain harmful microbial contaminants that a traveler's body may not be accustomed to. Other times a form of bacteria unfamiliar to your innards may be circulating in foods or water. Though it has been found that most bacterial contaminations are caused from foods versus water. Even still, if possible, choose to order bottled water versus drinking water from the tap to prevent any complications. Most places that cater to foreigners visiting their country purify their water anyway. Anytime you are in doubt ask your waiter or waitress. More than likely they will be honest with you and tell you the truth. Any reputable restaurant would want your repeat business and have no reason to lie.


How do you know if you have any type of diarrhea? Trust me you'll know. The main sign of diarrhea is loose, runny stool. You will also find yourself making multiple trips to the loo, possibly 4 - 5 times a day. In which case some of those multiple runs to the bathroom may not be a time of your choosing. More than likely your bowels will tell you when it's time to go and without warning. So if you find yourself in this situation cancel any plans you may have that require you to be seconds away from a working toilet. Also, associated with diarrhea can be low fever, shaking chills, stomach cramps, vomiting and nausea. You may find that initially none of these will show themselves until later down in the process or they might accompany themselves with your diarrhea right away. Cramping may have you doubled over having you wondering when the baby will come out. If cramping becomes too unruly try a mixture of a 1/2 tsp. of baking powder and 1/3 c. of lemon juice. Until you see a physician it can help subside this symptom. Nausea can also be quite intense giving one the feeling that someone is wringing their stomach out like a wet towel. When all is said and done, diarrhea is manageable but annoying and embarrassing. If blood is noticed in the stool or if a high fever occurs this can indicate something more serious. If you find yourself having these symptoms contact your family physician immediately and begin asking questions. Whether it is serious or not explain your symptoms to your doctor and definitely inform them that you have been out of the country. They will then run the proper tests to see if the diarrhea is stemming from something viral or bacterial.

How Do I Get Rid of It?

Hold on to your Immodium because you can't. Now that your jaw has dropped don't worry, diarrhea is kind of like the common cold in the aspect that there is no sure fire cure for it. There are things you can do to ease the discomfort that comes with this cruel form of fighting off those bad bacteria. One way is by eating foods that don't add to the problem. Eat plain foods with little seasoning and butter or any forms of oil. Try to stay clear of foods that are spicy or saucy like hot sauce or pizzas. Leave cheeses and milk product items on the shelves until your dilemma subsides. Though it has been tested that if milk can be tolerated during times of diarrhea it is okay to drink it in moderation. Many physicians will tell you to begin a BRAT diet which is somewhat of an outdated method but can be effective for some in moderation. It is a diet lacking in some of the nutrients that the body needs and should not be used for a prolonged period of time.

BRAT stands for Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast. Bananas are for the potassium and electrolytes that your body will need. Plain white Rice (not brown or wild) is classified as a "binding" food. This means that it can help your body form a more solid stool, along with it's acronym mate Applesauce. It also is beneficial for making your stool less loose as well as replenishing your body with pectin. Pectin is a soluble fiber that helps to absorb liquid in the intestines which helps move stool along smoothly. And lastly is Toast, it is easy for the stomach to digest which helps keep your stomach from working overtime during this sensitive time. Keep in mind that when your body is going through its diarrhea phase you are losing all the nutrients and good bacteria that need to remain in your body to keep you healthy. Keeping them replenished needs to be your number one priority when faced with diarrhea.

Other things to consider during diarrhea water and yogurt labeled with active or live cultures on it. Water is to avoid dehydration from expelling so much and yogurt can help your intestines maintain its good bacteria while getting rid of the bad. A choice brand of yogurt to consider is Activia. It is the best solution for aiding in your digestive tract as well. Another form of taking in helpful bacteria is by taking Lactobacillus Acidophilus that can be found in pill or granule form. Chicken broth is also good for replenishing the body with electrolytes. Plain mashed or baked potatoes help to congeal runny stools. Making a meal of chicken broth with chopped up bits of baked potato accompanied with plain white salted crackers can be a combo dish to get you through this phase. Trust me, I know. Also, as much as possible try to refrain from having too much sugar in your new diet. Though things like Gatorade can replenish electrolytes, they can also contain lots of sugar which is a no-no. And if you're too afraid to introduce milk into your diet a temporary replacement of calcium can be Tums.

When Will It End!

Depending on when one obtains the virus or bacteria, Traveler's Diarrhea might not show itself during your vacation but appear a week or so after you arrive back from your vacation. Generally the typical diarrhea you can obtain from being lactose intolerant or having way too many chili cheese dogs should last you no more than a couple of days. When symptoms of diarrhea prolong themselves for longer than the 2 - 3 day norm, you should stop your regimen of Pepto Bismol or Immodium A-D if that's what you've begun to take. With Traveler's Diarrhea symptoms can last anywhere from 3 days to almost a month to work itself out. Trust me again. I'm not making this stuff up. Over the counter medications can often times delay the process of your stomach getting rid of the bad bacteria that your body has acquired by slowing the process of the diarrhea. You might need some help from your physician. They can prescribe you with something a bit stronger such as Lomotil that works by slowing the movement of the intestines or Bentyl to help relieve diarrhea as well as muscle spasms in the gastrointestinal tract which softens the blows of cramping or nausea that you might feel. So if you're in the midst of your vacation or are just coming from a relaxing one and find yourself with diarrhea it may take you longer than the norm to get rid of it. If you notice your number two's becoming more and more watery and lasting over 2 days consult a physician right away.

Moral of the Story

Be aware of what you ingest and watch out for places that may look unsanitary whether it's in your own back yard or overseas. Even be cautious of clean establishments. It's not only shady eateries that you have to look out for. Trust me, I speak from experience. To aid in the prevention of Traveler's Diarrhea certain precautions can be taken. Keeping hands clean is a definite plus when traveling. When vacationing and sightseeing it can be hard to keep hands clean at times. Always make sure to pack pocket sized hand sanitizers to prevent the spread of bacteria. Instead of worrying about buying your next bottled water, purchase your own water bottle with a built-in filtration system. But keep in mind that filtering water this way can keep you from parasites but not viruses. Make sure you have a bottle with a proper purifier for virus blocking. Be cautious of unpasteurized dairy products, uncooked foods and even beverages containing ice cubes. Even be aware of fruits without peels that can be exposed to outside bacteria. Fruits like bananas or oranges that you yourself peel are better options. Another defense of traveling abroad and avoiding Traveler's Diarrhea would also be to ask your physician for advice on prescribing you something or pick up something over-the-counter such as Acidophilus to ward off diarrhea while on your next vacay. Traveler's Diarrhea can be a phase during your vacation or post-vacation that can be avoided just by taking careful approaches wherever you go.


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    • NiaG profile image

      NiaG 5 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Sorry about that teacherjoe. I've been to Mexico 5 times before and this 5th time I experienced it. I believe mine was due to drinking a drink that an all natural shake. And I think all that fresh fruit is what did me in. It was delicious but you're right, it's not worth it to be sick. For me, I was sick for 2 weeks. Not worth it at all. Luckily I was sick at home and had the chance to enjoy my vacation.

      Thanks for dropping by teacherjoe! Have a wonderful day!

    • teacherjoe52 profile image

      teacherjoe52 5 years ago

      When travelling to Mexico I drank lime juice (fresh sqeezed, not the store bought rubbish) and in a day it was gone.

      I have learned (the hard way) to stay away from street vendors. Some are good but is it worth the chance?