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Traveler’s diarrhea diet

Contents of this page:

Alternative Names   

Diet - traveler's diarrhea; Diarrhea - traveler's - diet

Definition    Return to top

Traveler's diarrhea is loose, watery, and frequent stools that occur after visiting areas with contaminated water supplies, poor sewage systems, or improper food handling. High-risk destinations include third world or developing countries, including Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

This article discusses the appropriate foods and fluids to consume if you develop traveler's diarrhea.

See also: Diarrhea

Function    Return to top

Bacteria and their toxins in the water and food supply cause traveler's diarrhea. (People living in these areas often don't get sick because their bodies have developed some degree of immunity.)

You can decrease your risk of developing traveler's diarrhea by avoiding water, ice, and food that may be contaminated. The goal of the traveler's diarrhea diet is to reduce the impact of this illness and avoid severe dehydration.

Side Effects    Return to top

Traveler's diarrhea is rarely life-threatening for adults. It is more serious in children as it can frequently lead to dehydration.

Recommendations    Return to top

Prevention of traveler's diarrhea:


If you or your child get diarrhea, continue eating and drinking. For adults and young children, continue to drink fluids such as fruit juices and soft drinks (noncaffeinated). Salted crackers, soups, and porridges are also recommended.

Dehydration presents the most critical problem, especially for children. Signs of severe dehydration include:

Oral rehydration fluids are advised for children with traveler's diarrhea to prevent severe dehydration. These fluids contain salts (mainly sodium, potassium, and chloride) with small amounts of glucose (a form of sugar). They replace lost fluids and minerals. Most stores in the United States sell rehydration fluids in the infant section. In third world countries, many health agencies stock packets of salts to mix with water.

If rehydration fluids are not available, you can make an emergency solution as follows:

Give the child small amounts to drink often. Small amounts decrease the likelihood of vomiting. One guideline is to give one cup of fluid for every loose stool passed.

If you or your child have signs of severe dehydration, or if fever or bloody stools develop, seek immediate medical attention.

There is no vaccine against traveler's diarrhea. However, your doctor may recommend medicines to help reduce your chances of getting sick. For example, taking two tablets of Pepto-Bismol four times a day before and during international travel can help prevent many cases of diarrhea. Pepto-Bismol should not be taken for more than 3 weeks.

Prophylactic antibiotics are those used to prevent diarrhea while traveling. At this time, prophylactic antibiotics are not generally recommended unless the person is at increased risk for complications of traveler's diarrhea. People at such risk include those with chronic bowel diseases, kidney disease, diabetes, or HIV.

References    Return to top

Arguin P. Approach to the patient before and after travel. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 308.

Hill DR, Ericsson CD, Pearson RD, et al. The practice of travel medicine: guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. 2006;43:1499-1539.

Update Date: 3/5/2009

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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