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Traveller's Diarrhea: Care Instructions

The digestive system


Traveller's diarrhea is loose, watery bowel movements you can get when you travel. It also can cause vomiting and belly cramps.

This kind of diarrhea is usually caused by bacteria. But sometimes it is caused by a parasite or virus.

Most people get it when they eat undercooked, raw, or contaminated foods. You can also get it if you drink contaminated water or if you drink something that has contaminated ice cubes in it.

In some cases, new foods can cause diarrhea. In other cases, the stress and anxiety of travel can cause it.

Traveller's diarrhea usually isn't serious. Most of the time, bowel movements return to normal quickly. The most important thing is to prevent dehydration. Make sure to drink a lot of fluids.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Watch for signs of dehydration. This means your body has lost too much water. Dehydration is serious and needs to be treated right away. Signs of dehydration are:
    • Feeling more thirsty than usual.
    • Dry eyes and mouth.
    • Feeling faint or light-headed.
    • A smaller amount of urine than normal.
  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose bottled or boiled water and other clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Start to eat small amounts of mild foods if you feel like it.
  • Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter medicine. These may include bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) or loperamide (Imodium). Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not use these medicines if your doctor does not recommend them.
  • Be safe with medicines. If your doctor recommends prescription medicine, take it as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • Your stools are maroon or very bloody.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • Your stools are black and look like tar, or they have streaks of blood.
  • You have diarrhea and your belly pain or cramps are worse.
  • You have signs of needing more fluids. You have sunken eyes, a dry mouth, and pass only a little urine.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You have 12 or more loose stools in 24 hours.
  • You see pus in the diarrhea.
  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • Your diarrhea does not get better or is more frequent.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.