Travellers' Diarrhoea
Travellers' diarrhoea is a disorder of the digestive tract that causes loose, water stools and abdominal cramps. You will catch it as a result of eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water when abroad; you may eat at a restaurant that does not practice sufficient levels of food hygiene or a sudden change in your diet may also result in diarrhoea. This condition is not very serious, but it can be very unpleasant to have. There are various things you can do to lessen the effects of travellers' diarrhoea. You can also order treatments from Medicine Direct, which can clear up your problem faster.

Travellers' Diarrhoea

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What is Travellers' Diarrhoea?

Travellers' diarrhoea is a condition that you get when visiting different countries. It is a digestive tract disorder that results in stomach cramps and loose stools, which are passed three or more times in 24 hours.

It is not classed as a serious condition, but it is very inconvenient and unpleasant. It is normally the result of eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. When visiting a destination that has different sanitation practices or a different climate to the one you are used to, the risk of getting travellers' diarrhoea is increased significantly.

What are the symptoms of Travellers' Diarrhoea?

The most common symptoms include:

  • Abruptly passing loose stools three or more times a day
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Needing to have a bowel movement urgently
  • Fever
  • Nausea

Does vomiting and diarrhoea affect any other medication you may be taking, i.e. antimalarials?

Nausea and vomiting are side effects associated with antimalarials. If you vomit shortly after taking medication, it may not have had time to be absorbed into your system properly. In this case, you may need to take another dose, but you should read the patient information leaflet for full information on this happening. If there is no information in the leaflet, speak to a doctor or pharmacist before taking another dose.

How long does travellers' diarrhoea last?

Most cases of diarrhoea will clear up within a couple of days without treatment. However, you may require antibiotics to help it clear up completely.

What is mild vs severe travellers' diarrhoea?

In most cases of travellers' diarrhoea, it will occur in the first week of travel and the symptoms will be mild. This means that diarrhoea is the only symptom and it does not get in the way of your normal day to day activities. The symptoms will normally last for between 3 and 5 days without the need for treatment.

It is classed as moderate to severe when the diarrhoea comes with additional symptoms, which can be found listed above.

What causes Travellers' Diarrhoea?

This condition is generally caused by eating food that is contaminated or drinking contaminated water when in a different country. What you consume may have been contaminated by organisms from faeces.

Different countries often have different climates, hygiene and sanitation practices that your body is not used to; this can result in travellers' diarrhoea. It can also be a result of the stress of travelling or a change in your diet.

It is a common problem for travellers, affecting millions of people who travel to different countries every year.

High-risk destinations include:

  • Central America
  • South America
  • Mexico
  • Africa
  • The Middle East
  • Asia

Eastern Europe, South Africa and certain Caribbean islands also pose a risk to travellers. The risk is lower in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Northern and Western Europe, Canada and Japan.

As well as your destination of choice, you stand a greater risk of getting diarrhoea when abroad if:

  • You are a young adult
  • You take antacids or acid blockers
  • You travel during particular seasons (such as visiting South Asia in the hot months before monsoon season)
  • You have inflammatory bowel disease, cirrhosis of the liver or diabetes
  • You have a weakened immune system

Travellers' Diarrhoea Diagnosis

What should I do if I get travellers' diarrhoea?

In many cases, travellers' diarrhoea will clear up on its own after a few days. However, you should seek medical attention if you have bloody stools or if your diarrhoea lasts more than a few days. If you are still travelling, you should call an embassy or consulate to find a qualified doctor.

How is travellers' diarrhoea diagnosed?

The doctor will review your symptoms, ask you how long they have been going on and ask you questions about your medical history. They will likely prescribe you antibiotics to fight the infection and instruct you to drink plenty of clean water to stop you from becoming dehydrated.

Travellers' Diarrhoea Treatment

Do you need to treat travellers' diarrhoea or will it resolve on its own?

In many cases, this problem will resolve itself after a couple of days. However, if your symptoms persist, you may need prescription treatments to help fight the condition. It is important to drink plenty of clean water to avoid dehydration.

How to treat travellers' diarrhoea

If your condition does not improve on its own, you might need medication to help you. These may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-motility agents, such as loperamide
  • Bismuth subsalicylate

You can purchase treatments for diarrhoea from Medicine Direct after an online consultation with one of our certified doctors. After prescribing you the most appropriate medication, this can then be bought from our UK registered pharmacy.

If you order by 2pm, we can offer you next day delivery.

Is there a vaccine for travellers' diarrhoea?

Sadly, there is currently no vaccine for this condition to guarantee you will not get it.

How to prevent travellers' diarrhoea

You can try to prevent getting this condition by:

  • Only eating food that is served hot
  • Washing your hands with soap and water, particularly before eating and after going to the toilet
  • Avoid food that has been left out on a buffet
  • Drinking bottled water or drinks that are factory-sealed
  • Avoid ice in food or drinks

Travellers' Diarrhoea Frequently Asked Questions

Is travellers' diarrhoea a form of food poisoning?

Diarrhoea is often the result of food poisoning. Travellers' diarrhoea is commonly caused by eating food or drinking water that is contaminated by bacteria, infection or parasites.

Can travellers' diarrhoea be passed from person to person?

Yes, this problem is often contagious and can be passed from person to person quite easily. For this reason, it is very important to practice basic sanitation methods, such as washing your hands with soap and water before you eat and after you have been to the toilet.

Do not share cutlery with anyone who has diarrhoea as the bacteria can be passed this way.

Does the time of year I travel affect how likely I am to experience travellers' diarrhoea?

In some destinations, the time of year can make it more likely that you will suffer from diarrhoea while abroad. For example, travelling to South Asia during the hot months before monsoon season is a particularly risky time to visit if you are concerned about catching travellers' diarrhoea.

Is travellers' diarrhoea always caused by E. coli?

E. coli is a common cause of this condition, but it can also be caused as a result of Salmonella, viruses, and parasites.

These organisms spread through your body when you consume contaminated food or water. It can also be spread through mouths and from touching cutlery that has been touched or used by someone who has the condition.

Is all E. coli dangerous?

E. coli is a form of bacteria that is commonly found in human and animal intestines, commonly forming normal bacteria in the bowel. There are various different types of E. coli and most of them are completely harmless.

However, some can cause serious food poisoning and infections.

Is travellers' diarrhoea dangerous?

Travellers' diarrhoea can cause dehydration, which can easily happen when you have diarrhoea as a result of your body losing fluids much faster than you can take them in. If you are also vomiting, you lose even more fluid, which can make the situation even worse.

If a young child is suffering from diarrhoea, the risk of dehydration can be particularly dangerous.

You are likely to be dehydrated if you have any of these symptoms while experiencing travellers' diarrhoea:

  • Headaches
  • Urinating less
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased thirst
  • Feeling confused
  • Your skin becomes dry
  • You feel dizzy

Travellers diarrhoea is the result of a parasitic infection that normally requires antibiotics or another form of medication to treat. Parasitic infections risk causing the following:

  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Allergic reaction
  • Bacterial infection

Tapeworms can also embed their heads into your intestinal wall and can also lay eggs in other areas of your body. Other worms that pose a threat include fluke worms, hookworms and trichinosis worms.

How difficult is it to get treatment for travellers' diarrhoea abroad?

Getting treatment is very important if you suffer from this problem while abroad.

It is a very good idea to bring some over the counter treatments with you from the UK, just in case you get travellers' diarrhoea while abroad. This will mean you are prepared.

If these treatments do not work, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

In most cases, diarrhoea will resolve itself in a couple of days. If you are still travelling while suffering with the infection, you should contact an embassy or consulate to find a qualified doctor. How difficult it is to get treatment will depend on where you have travelled to.

What should I do if I get travellers' diarrhoea and I’m pregnant?

This condition can be dangerous for pregnant women. If you are pregnant and your diarrhoea has not gone away after a couple of days, you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible. A doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics or another form of medication to speed up the recovery process.

In the meantime, it is very important you do all you can to stay hydrated; try to drink as much clean water as possible, drinking from factory sealed water bottles and other soft drinks.

Doctor Notes

Medicine Direct have an experienced clinical team of doctors, pharmacists and dispensers, all of whom are based in the UK. All are fully trained and qualified to provide appropriate and considered care across all areas of treatment we have available at our online pharmacy.

This means that no matter which member of our team is assigned to your case, you can rest assured that you are in the hands of a highly skilled medical professional, who possesses the compassion and clinical expertise to properly advise you on the best course of treatment.

We are fully regulated

All of our doctors and pharmacists are fully registered with both the General Medical Council (GMC), MHRA and the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). Each member of our team has also worked in various clinic settings in the past, such as community pharmacies and NHS hospitals.

Sonia Khan Medicine Direct Pharmacist

Sonia Khan
MPharm: 2076091


Pharmacist

This content has been written by our Pharmacist Sonia Khan and has been medically reviewed by our Superintendent Pharmacist Hussain Abdeh

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