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Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

by EBSCO Medical Review Board

Definition

Traveler's diarrhea is diarrhea in people who travel to other nations. It often happens in developing countries.

Causes

The main cause of this problem is ingesting food or water that is contaminated with:

  • Bacteria, such as escherichia coli (E. coli), campylobacter, salmonella, and shingella
  • Viruses, such as rotavirus and norovirus
  • Parasites, such as protozoa and giardia
Virus Attacking Cell
Virus
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Risk Factors

This problem is more common in people who visit developing countries that lack safe water supplies and sanitation. Other things that may raise the risk are:

Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Crohn's Disease
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Symptoms

Problems may be:

  • Increased frequency and volume of stool
  • Frequent loose stools—4 to 5 watery bowel movements a day
  • Belly cramping
  • Bloating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This is enough to make the diagnosis.

Treatment

Most people get better on their own in 3 to 5 days without treatment. Symptoms can be managed with:

Dietary Changes

Drinking plenty of clear fluids or an oral hydration solution can help prevent dehydration. This will replace the fluids lost in the diarrhea. Foods should be slowly reintroduced.

Medicine

Antibiotics may be given to reduce how long symptoms last. They are only helpful for treating infections caused by bacteria.

Antidiarrheal medicine may also be given. Examples are loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate.

Prevention

To lower the risk of this health problem when traveling:

  • Do not eat foods from street vendors or unsanitary eating establishments.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked meat or seafood.
  • Eat foods that are fully cooked and served hot.
  • Do not eat salads or unpeeled fruits. Have only fruits and vegetables can be peeled, such as bananas or oranges.
  • Do not drink tap water or use ice cubes. Do not use the water for toothbrushing.
  • Drink only bottled water with a sealed cap or local water that has been boiled for 10 minutes or treated with iodine or chlorine.
  • Sealed bottled carbonated beverages, steaming hot tea or coffee, wine, and beer are all okay to drink.

RESOURCES

American Gastroenterological Association  http://www.gastro.org 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  https://www.cdc.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Be Food Safe—Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education  http://befoodsafe.ca 

Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

References

Acute diarrhea in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/acute-diarrhea-in-adults. Accessed September 16, 2021.

Acute diarrhea in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/acute-diarrhea-in-children. Accessed September 16, 2021.

Travelers' diarrhea. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/travelers-diarrhea. Accessed September 16, 2021.

Traveler's diarrhea. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/travelers-diarrhea. Accessed September 16, 2021.

Traveler’s diarrhea. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/gastroenteritis/traveler%E2%80%99s-diarrhea?redirectid=97. Accessed September 16, 2021.

Revision Information