Risk Factors for Traveler’s Diarrhea

Tuesday 7 September 2021
Gastrointestinal Disorders
4 minute(s) read

Table of Contents


I. Risky Destinations

II. Young Adults and Traveler’s Diarrhea

III. Strong vs. Weak Immune Systems

IV. How Underlying Conditions Affect Your Risk

V. Acid Blockers and Antacids

VI. Seasonal Travel Risks


Risky Destinations

Traveler’s diarrhea gets its name from its prevalence among international travelers. It is usually caused by a local virus, bacteria, or parasite that does not affect locals because they have developed immunity.

Traveler’s diarrhea can cause serious discomfort and symptoms of abdominal cramps, loose stools, fever, and an urgent need to defecate. If you experience traveler’s diarrhea, you can ask your doctor about antibiotics like Xifaxan (rifaximin), Zithromax (azithromycin), or Cipro (ciprofloxacin) to relieve symptoms.

The best way to prevent traveler’s diarrhea is to know the risk factors. The most direct risk factor for this condition is traveling to high-risk destinations. Travel destinations like New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Canada, and Northern and Western Europe have the lowest risk of causing traveler’s diarrhea. Researchers think this is because they have similar hygiene practices, infrastructure, and food preparation procedures.  

If you are traveling to Eastern Europe, South Africa, or the Caribbean Islands, there is a slightly higher risk for traveler’s diarrhea. However, the most high-risk destinations are typically:

  • Asia
  • Africa
  • The Middle East
  • Mexico
  • Central and South America [1]

Young Adults and Traveler’s Diarrhea

Certain places are high-risk because they may have different climates and relaxed standards for food cleanliness. Still, your age may also factor into how likely you are of developing traveler’s diarrhea.

a street food vendor seasoning skewers

It isn’t exactly clear why, but young adults are the most likely to develop traveler’s diarrhea. Younger tourists may have a higher risk because they are more daring with their travel and food choices, or they may simply lack the required immunity to fight off infections. Young adults may also not be wary enough of contaminated foods. Because of this, young adults should take these risk factors into consideration when going on their next trip. [1]

Strong vs. Weak Immune Systems

Depending on your overall health, you may have a stronger or weaker immune system. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends those with a weaker immune system make a doctor’s appointment prior to traveling overseas. Your doctor can prescribe any appropriate travel medications and ensure your trip is safe for you. [2]

Several factors can compromise your immune system. Some common factors include conditions such as kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, liver disease, and HIV or AIDS. Certain medicines can similarly weaken your immune system, such as steroids, chemotherapy, and autoimmune disease medications. Try to see your doctor at least one month before visiting another country so that you have time to get the right vaccines and travel medications. [2]

How Underlying Conditions Affect Your Risk 

People with diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are often more susceptible to severe infections than people without these conditions. As a result, having one of these conditions can significantly increase your risk of traveler’s diarrhea.

several packages of pills

Those with type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of severe complications if traveler’s diarrhea causes vomiting, especially in places with non-potable water. For type 1 diabetes patients, vomiting can lead to ketoacidosis and subsequently a diabetic coma, which is a life-threatening condition. If drinkable water isn’t readily available, dehydration can also cause ketoacidosis to occur more quickly. If you have type 1 diabetes and are planning a trip overseas, ask your doctor for ways to travel safely. [3]

Acid Blockers and Antacids

Taking acid blockers or antacids can also contribute to your risk for traveler’s diarrhea. This is because your stomach acid plays a vital role in destroying organisms of all sorts, including potentially harmful bacteria and viruses. When you reduce the acid in your stomach, you are essentially giving the bacteria a better chance at surviving in your system. [1]

Additionally, most antacids contain magnesium, which can have a laxative effect. High levels of magnesium can lead to diarrhea, especially in those with renal failure whose kidneys are not able to eliminate magnesium from the body. [4]

a forest trail during the rainy season

Seasonal Travel Risks

In parts of the world that are warmer or have monsoon seasons, your risk of getting traveler’s diarrhea may increase based on when you visit. Studies show that your risk of developing traveler’s diarrhea is the highest if you travel during summer months or rainy seasons. [5]

Talk to your doctor for more information on reducing your risk of traveler’s diarrhea. There are many steps you can take to prevent contracting this disruptive condition. You can also discuss treatment options in case you do develop nausea, loose stools, or vomiting while on your trip. Ask your doctor about antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea before planning your next getaway.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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