By the author of Be Ready for Anything and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
Gastrointestinal upsets are truly miserable, whether they’re caused by shigellosis, food poisoning, or another virus.
One common cause is Shigellosis, a bacterial infection also known as “Montezuma’s revenge” or “traveler’s diarrhea.” It usually affects people visiting Third World destinations and is caused by drinking water that hasn’t been properly purified. The symptoms are watery or bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and fatigue.
While it will eventually go away without treatment, most of the time doctors prescribe antibiotics to speed recovery. It’s very important to note that in cases of shigellosis, anti-diarrheal medications should not be administered. They can actually lengthen the amount of time a person is ill. They slow down the expulsion of the bacteria from the intestines and can worsen the infection. Because the severe diarrhea flushes out the bacteria, the illness is self-limiting. Patients should be kept well-hydrated while the illness runs its course. (To learn more about waterborne illnesses, check out my book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide.)
Some of the cases are related to foreign travel, but many have been tracked back to…well, poverty. Homeless people, those living in shelters, rooms with shared baths, and children who attend daycare are among the populations most likely to become ill with shigellosis. As more and more people have difficulty affording the basics, we can expect more and more cases of illness like this. Consider impoverished areas like metro Detroit, where running water was cut off for many residents who couldn’t afford to pay their bills. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to predict that we’re going to see an uptick in sanitation-related illnesses.
As well, viral stomach upsets can cause problems. The norovirus (commonly known as “the stomach flu”) is a frequent cause of vomiting and diarrhea.
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How can you prevent the spread of gastrointestinal problems at home?
There are few things more unpleasant than a stomach bug. Symptoms like crippling nausea, cramps, and frantic rushes to the bathroom are sheer misery.
If the symptoms are especially severe or continue for more than 48 hours, the standard advice is to seek medical attention.
A stomach virus is incredibly contagious. If a family member is suffering from the symptoms of a stomach virus, practice the following precautions to attempt to contain it:
- Isolate the family member as much as possible
- Wash cutlery and dishes used by the sick family member in water containing a couple of drops of bleach. Wash again with your regular, non-toxic dish soap.
- Wipe items handled by the sick person with antibacterial wipes (I keep Clorox wipes on hand for this purpose.) Things like the telephone, the television remote, door handles, faucets, and the toilet flusher should be wiped before someone else touches them.
- Household members should wash their hands frequently, particularly before eating and after using the bathroom (yes, I know this should be standard, but I’m repeating it anyway.) Hand sanitizers can add some extra protection.
Vomiting and diarrhea can be the body’s natural defense against invaders. It can be the digestive system’s way of ridding itself of toxins and viruses. However, excessive vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration, sometimes severe.
What to give the sick person to eat and drink
It’s very important to keep the sufferer hydrated with ice chips and clear fluids. You can find some recipes for homemade oral rehydration solutions HERE. These recipes are a good basis for creating a solution using items that you have in your pantry. You add a few of these trace mineral supplement drops to your beverage of choice, as well.
Once the person is able to eat, try offering gentle, easily digested foods. The “BRAT” diet consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Other options are saltine crackers, pretzels, mashed potatoes, pasta, and clear soups.
If after 12 hours, if the patient is still unable to keep down liquids, medical attention should be sought. The time shortens for younger patients. If an infant isn’t urinating at least every two hours his little body is trying to hold onto liquids because he is dehydrated – you should seek immediate medical assistance in this case.
The only thing you can do is treat the symptoms
As far as the treatment of the actual cause of the illness is concerned, there isn’t a lot that can be done. The illness has to run its course. Most of the time, treating the symptoms and avoiding dehydration is all that can be done.
There are all sorts of options for treating the symptoms of gastrointestinal upset, both traditional and chemical. The links below are to resources for acquiring the remedies.
6 Natural Remedies
Treating the symptoms doesn’t necessarily require a trip to the pharmacy. Just like treatments for the seasonal flu, many good remedies can be found right in your kitchen. If you don’t already have these items on hand, they are excellent, multi-purpose additions to your stockpile. Before using these or any other herbal supplements, perform due diligence in confirming potential interactions with any other drugs or supplements that person may be taking. Medical advice should be sought, particularly for pregnant women, children, or those with a compromised immune system before home remedies are administered.
Some of these plants can be easily grown in a variety of climates, providing a constantly replenishing supply. From a preparedness perspective, the ability to grow your own remedies cannot be over-emphasized.
Always opt for organic herbal remedies, to exclude the possibility of pesticides or chemical preservatives or additives. If you’re already ill, you need to use the purest, best quality products you can get your hands on. Your body has enough work to do, fighting off the bacteria or virus causing your illness.
Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory with a long history in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of nausea, motion sickness, and morning sickness.
Ginger can be found in the form of tea, the root itself or in capsules. Keep in mind, though, if you are vomiting already, ginger can make the experience far more unpleasant because of worsened esophageal reflux.
When purchasing ginger tablets, read the ingredients carefully. Gravol makes a “Natural Source” ginger chewable pill containing certified organic ginger. I was really excited because you can find that in even the tiniest pharmacy. However, upon closer inspection, the ingredients listed “aspartame”. Ummm. NO, I won’t add a nasty ingredient like that to my organic herbal remedy, thanks.
Several companies offer a ginger tablet remedy. However, if you go over to the vitamin section, quite frequently you can find ginger root. Buying it from the vitamin section, without the glossy anti-nausea advertising, can save you a hefty amount. I checked at my local pharmacy today and 90 Ginger Root capsules (500 mg) were the same price as the bottle of 20 “All-Natural Ginger” anti-nausea tablets. Both were $8.99. As well, the one in the supplement section had no additional ingredients aside from the gelatin capsule that encased the powder.
Chamomile has anti-spasmodic properties. This makes a cup of chamomile tea a soothing treatment for a stomach upset that includes abdominal cramping, bloating, and gas. It has a mild pleasant taste with a hint of “apple” flavor.
There are all different kinds of mint tea available. The most common are peppermint, spearmint, and wintergreen. They all contain menthol, a volatile oil. Menthol is the component that gives mint that “cooling” sensation. Mint tea is anti-spasmodic, so will aid in relieving gas, cramping and bloating. Additionally, menthol has muscle relaxant properties that can help reduce vomiting.
Candy containing real peppermint oil can easily be carried in your purse for a mildly soothing effect.
Some people that suffer from acid reflux find that mint worsens the condition.
Yogurt can’t be tolerated in all episodes of stomach and intestinal upsets. However, yogurt with active cultures can help to rebalance the “good flora” in your stomach and intestinal tract, making it especially valuable for treating diarrhea.
Regular consumption of yogurt can actually prevent stomach viruses in the first place by making your digestive tract inhospitable to viruses. It’s really easy to make your own yogurt – get directions here.
5.) Black Tea
Black tea is rich in tannins, which have been a longtime home treatment for diarrhea. The reason why is that tannins have an astringent effect on the intestinal lining. It can help to reduce the inflammation within the intestines that was causing the episode of diarrhea.
In one study, children aged 2-12 given black tea for diarrhea showed significant improvement over the control group within a 24 hour period.
You can sweeten your tea but leave out the milk until you’re feeling better.
Be careful with over-the-counter medications.
In our home, chemical treatments are always a last resort. However, I keep them on hand in my preparedness supplies in the event that natural remedies aren’t strong enough and medical care is unavailable.
The most common side effects of loperamide are stomach pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, constipation, dry mouth, sleepiness, fatigue, and dehydration. According to the National Library of Medicine, loperamide hydrochloride can actually paralyze the intestines in a condition called paralytic ileus. This means that the intestines no longer participate in digestion and do not push the stool along for excretion.
Many natural practitioners feel that diarrhea should not be stopped – that the body is naturally ridding itself of viruses or toxins. As well, the overuse of antidiarrheals can result in constipation so severe that medical intervention becomes necessary.
According to the Alberta Health Services website, the medication (sold under the brand name Gravol in Canada) can have a number of side effects. There has also been a noted problem with abuse of medications containing dimenhydrinate, so those medications have been relegated to “behind the counter”.
At recommended doses, Gravol can cause drowsiness, dizziness and blurred vision. It can impair your concentration and motor coordination. For these reasons, you should use Gravol with caution if driving or doing other things that require you to be fully alert. It can be especially dangerous to combine it with alcohol and other depressant drugs. Dry mouth, excitation and nervousness (especially in children) are other side effects.
At lower doses, you can experience feelings of well-being and euphoria. At higher doses you can hallucinate. Taking Gravol with alcohol, codeine and other depressant drugs intensifies these effects. Large doses can cause sluggishness, paranoia, agitation, memory loss, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and difficulty swallowing and speaking. (source)
There isn’t really any way to “cure” a stomach virus – the illness must simply run its course. The best things you can do are rest, keep hydrated, and treat the symptoms to keep them at a tolerable level.
How do you treat vomiting and diarrhea?
Do you have any treatments for upset stomachs that you’ve found effective? Please share them in the comments below.