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Diarrhea: Causes and Treatment

“Montezuma's Revenge”

First Things First

Today there are prescription antibiotics that travelers can take before they partake to prevent Montezuma's Revenge. The good news is that it gives you the freedom to eat and drink what you want. The bad news is that it can cause such side effects as drowsiness, headaches, nausea, and rashes.

The legend has it that when the Spaniards attacked and horribly massacred the Aztecs in Mexico, they were left a vengeful legacy: an illness that involved terrible diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, and vomiting. Named after Montezuma, the King of the Aztecs, this “revenge” for the massacre can easily befall any tourist visiting Mexico today. The symptoms of “Montezuma's Revenge” are similar to those of food poisoning. However, rather than food, it involves parasites or bacteria in the water. While the enzymes in the digestive systems of Mexicans (and people of other Caribbean cultures) have long ago adapted to this water, tourists from Canada and the United States are not so lucky. If “tainted” water is swallowed, either from brushing one's teeth, showering, eating food washed in regular water, or drinks made with tainted ice cubes, tourists can easily succumb to a terrible attack of diarrhea. If you are a tourist from the states, you should also avoid unpeeled fruits, salads, and raw vegetables. These too can be “tainted.”

If it's not treated, “Montezuma's Revenge” can cause dehydration, severe weakness, and possible shock. The best protection against getting it in the first place is to use bottled water in any country where tainted water might be a problem.

Before You Put the Band-Aid On

It's good to sip any liquid if you have a minor case of dehydration. “Sports drinks,” such as Snapple's K-10 and Gatorade, work even better because they contain glucose and potassium, which are vital nutrients your body needs for good health—and which are lost when you become dehydrated. However, adults who are dehydrated will find quicker results if they alternate a “sports drink” with water and juice. Children will do better with Pedialyte, a “dehydration” brew made specifically for youngsters. And the World Health Organization (WHO) makes rehydration powders that are more balanced, but are not as tasty, as Gatorade.


Diarrhea can cause dehydration. Your body can also become dehydrated from too much vomiting and a lack of drinking water, especially on a hot summer day.

The food you eat and the liquid you drink on a daily basis comes to about three or four liters or one gallon of fluid. When this fluid reaches the intestines, approximately eight ounces is eliminated as a bowel movement. The rest is either eliminated in your urine or absorbed into your body.

When you have diarrhea, the solids become watery. And if you're going to the bathroom five or six times a day, you're losing a lot more liquid than you should. It's easy to see how your body could become dehydrated.

Most bouts of minor dehydration can be handled by slowly drinking liquids. But, unfortunately, dehydration can become serious quickly. Dehydration attacks the filtering system of the kidneys, “drying out” the water in our bodies that help our vital fluids run smoothly so that our cells can be replenished and our toxins eliminated. When diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours, the loss of water and fluids can reach dangerous levels.

Signs of dehydration include:
Extreme drowsiness Weakness
Clammy skin and chills Dizziness
Rough, lackluster skin that Being able to eliminate only small
“tents” or “sags” when pulled quantities of dark urine
An inability to urinate Eventual unconsciousness

If someone is dehydrated, have him or her sip water, not gulp it down. The stomach cannot handle too much water—and the person who's ill will end up vomiting the water, causing even more dehydration. Dehydration becomes more and more serious very quickly. Hospital treatment is imperative if you suspect dehydration. The treatment for serious dehydration is intravenous fluid intake—which only a hospital can supply.

More on: First Aid


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to First Aid Basics © 1996 by Stephen J. Rosenberg, M.D. and Karla Dougherty. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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