Travel tummy troubles: Here’s how to prevent or soothe them

Traveling this summer and fall? Don’t forget to pack these digestive aids.

With COVID travel restrictions lifted, Americans are eager to get back on the road. Some estimates suggest that 75% of us expect to travel domestically in the summer, and recent figures show international travel from the United States more than doubled by May 2022 compared to last year.

But keep your digestive health in mind when packing your bags. Stomach problems like diarrhea, constipation and indigestion are all too common travel companions.

“Travel disrupts many of the body’s natural rhythms, including digestion, says Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. those who already have sensitive guts.”

Here’s a closer look at three common digestive disorders, how to prevent them, and how to deal with them.

Travel Stomach: Diarrhea

Diarrhea is the most common travel-related illness. Most often, people experience loose, watery stools with cramping and urgency. Diarrhea can result from an infection caused by eating food or water contaminated with bacteria or intestinal parasites, or it can be caused by a change in the environment or stress in people with intermittent diarrhea.

How To Prevent Diarrhea: Avoiding contaminated food and water and practicing good hygiene by washing hands frequently are the best ways to prevent travel diarrhea.

  • Stay well hydrated. In developing countries, factory-sealed bottled water is the safest option. (And always use bottled water to brush your teeth.) Avoid ice as it can come from unclean water.
  • Choose food and drink carefully. Only eat food that is cooked and served hot; avoid food that has been on a buffet. Eat raw fruits and vegetables only after washing or peeling in clean water.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water, especially after using the bathroom and before eating. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a backup.

How to deal with diarrhea: Most episodes of diarrhea go away on their own after a few days and are over within five days. However, see a doctor if you experience bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and/or fever, or if your diarrhea lasts for more than a week or two.

Otherwise, follow these steps to aid your recovery process:

  • Replace lost fluids. Avoid dehydration by drinking mineral water and low-sugar sports drinks that contain electrolytes.
  • Use over-the-counter products. Digestive medications containing the active ingredients loperamide (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) help reduce the frequency of loose, watery stools and reduce cramping. Take as directed.

Travel Stomach: Constipation

Travel constipation occurs when you don’t stick to your regular schedule. Sitting for long hours, such as during a long flight and train or bus rides, and interrupting your usual diet are two possible culprits. Constipation can last for a day or two or more.

How To Prevent Constipation: There are some steps prior to travel to avoid constipation, especially if you are prone to it.

  • Increase fiber and fluids. Make sure your pre-travel diet is high in fiber, which will make stools softer and more comfortable to pass. High-fiber foods are high in fruits, such as apples (with the skin), raspberries, and pears; beans; and whole grain foods such as bran cereal. You can also take fiber supplements such as methylcellulose (Citrucel) and psyllium (Metamucil). Do not charge too many fibers at once, as this can lead to bloating and gas. You should also drink plenty of water along with increased fiber intake.

How to deal with constipation: Over-the-counter oral laxatives can help move everything.

  • bulking agents. These include calcium polycarbophil (FiberCon), methylcellulose (Citrucel), and psyllium (Metamucil). They take a day or so to work, but can be used indefinitely. Make sure to take them with plenty of liquids as directed on the label.
  • Stool softeners. These drugs fuse with the stool and soften the consistency for easier passage. Look for products containing docusate sodium (Colace, Surfak).

Travel Stomach: Indigestion

Some things just don’t fit with your body. Whether you try the local cuisine or eat more than usual, your stomach can get upset just like at home and cause indigestion – stomach pain, bloating and heartburn.

How To Prevent Indigestion: Traveling can disrupt our usual eating habits, so try to keep food and drink in check. For example:

  • Watch the drinking. Some people find that even the occasional alcoholic drink can trigger an episode, so don’t overdo it.
  • Avoid trigger foods. Many people with IBS have difficulty tolerating foods high in carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols). Common FODMAP foods include dairy products, broccoli, beans and lentils, wheat, garlic, onions, apples, and fruit juices.
  • Monitor portions. Eating too much can increase the risk of indigestion. Focus on eating smaller portions and more frequent, smaller meals; for example, small meals four times a day instead of three times.
  • To slow down. Excess gas can also develop if you swallow too much air by eating too quickly or talking while eating.

How to deal with indigestion: Indigestion usually goes away on its own in a short time, but there are ways to make the process easier.

  • Use over-the-counter remedies. Depending on your symptoms, you may benefit from:
    • antacid pills or liquids
    • stomach upset such as bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate)
    • an acid blocker for heartburn relief, such as a proton pump inhibitor such as omeprazole (Prilosec) or lansoprazole (Prevacid), or an H2 blocker such as famotidine (Pepcid, Pepcid AC)
    • An anti-gas agent such as Gas-X that contains simethicone.

If you need to take these medicines regularly for more than a few weeks, talk to your doctor.

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