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Don’t let diarrhea cause anxiety when you’re far from home

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • When suffering from diarrhea, you should drink plenty of water or take frequent sips of oral rehydration liquids (ORS).
  • Do not take any anti-diarrhea medication straight away as it may cause the infection to become confined to the intestines.
  • A doctor’s appointment should be made in circumstances where serious symptoms of diarrhea are present, such as exhaustion, nausea, vomiting, a fever higher than 38.5 degrees Celsius, a dry mouth, dizziness, having more than 3-4 bowel movements a day and / or passing blood during bowel movements.

 

Don’t allow diarrhea to worry you when you’re far away from home

Many enjoy traveling to exotic and adventurous places. Such destinations can be wonderful, yet even in faraway modern locations one often needs to deal with changes in lifestyle and unsatisfactory sanitary conditions that take their toll on the body. One constant source of anxiety is “diarrhea”, something that is sure to put an end to the fun of traveling.

Diarrhea refers to any time that we have more than three bowel movements per day, with those bowel movements being less solid than usual. In cases where there is a serious infection, there may even be blood passed during these bowel movements.

Other symptoms that you may encounter are a stomach ache, exhaustion, a fever and most importantly—as it is a symptom that could eventually lead to a loss of life—dehydration and a rapid loss of minerals. The problem of diarrhea should therefore never be overlooked or underestimated.

Why diarrhea?

The E.coli bacteria is the most common cause of diarrhea, but also dysentery types of infections, parasitic infections and the rotavirus, which is more often found in young children than adults, can all cause diarrhea.

The aforementioned viruses and infections usually make their way into the stomach via food and drink, or from hands that have not been properly washed after a visit to the bathroom. When that person touches any food or drink, the germs on the hands can be transferred into the body.

Food preparation may be another cause of diarrhea. If food is not properly washed or cleaned, germs enter the body when the food is eaten. This type of transfer of germs usually leads to acute diarrhea.

Say goodbye to diarrhea: be selective and avoid certain things

Being selective:

  • Seek advice from your doctor before you travel. You might require some vaccinations. And don’t forget to pack some oral rehydration salts (ORS) in case you experience an upset stomach while traveling.
  • Choose foods which have just been cooked and are still hot.
  • Only drink water from bottles that are properly sealed.
  • Wash your hands carefully or carry wet wipes with you so that you can properly clean your hands after using the bathroom. Alternatively, wash your hands each time before you eat.

Avoid:

  • Foods which are uncooked or raw, foods which have strong flavors, and food which has been cooked and then left out all day.
  • Fruits which have already been peeled and chopped, or fruits which are overripe or bruised.
  • Drinking water from public taps or from bottles when you cannot be certain of their cleanliness.
  • Ice
  • Using utensils which are shared between people.
  • Milk or unsterilized dairy products.

What should you do if you get acute diarrhea?

  • Rest and avoid any activity that requires a lot of energy.
  • Eat foods which are bland and not too flavorful, ensuring that you eat a little each time across 5-6 small meals per day.
  • Drink plenty of clean drinking water, or sip oral rehydration salts (ORS) frequently. Also, dispose of any oral rehydration salt solution if you do not manage to drink the entire solution within 24 hours of mixing it.
  • Do not take any anti-diarrhea medication straight away as it may cause the infection to become confined to the intestines. However, if suffering from a fever, then medication may be taken to treat the fever or to reduce stomach pain.

You should seek urgent medical attention if you

  • are suffering from extreme stomach pains, exhaustion or you are feeling nauseous and are vomiting.
  • have a temperature of higher than 38.5 degree Celsius.
  • are suffering from severe dehydration, have a dry mouth and feel faint.
  • are having bowel movements more than 3-4 times per day or are passing blood in your stools.
  • Have diarrhea that doesn’t improve within 1-2 days, especially in young children, the elderly, those with defective immune systems or those with existing medical conditions.

Although diarrhea is not a big issue if you are only suffering from a small infection which is not dangerous, in cases where that virus or infection which has entered the body is serious, then it is possible that the sufferer could die from dehydration. Thus, the best thing to do is be prepared when traveling and get to know ways of avoiding diarrhea while on the road. This will mean that you can have fun and travel in a way that leaves a long-lasting impression for the good. However, if you do suffer from chronic diarrhea, an appointment with a doctor should be made as soon as possible in order to diagnose the causes of your condition.

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Benjarat Promjunyakul, M.D. Summary: Internal Medicine Gastroenterology