There are many medical terms that travelers should be aware of before taking a trip. Knowing these terms can help travelers stay safe, understand potential medical risks and seek appropriate care during their travels. Here are some important medical terms to know before traveling:

1. Immunization

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), immunization is defined as: “Protection from an infectious disease. If you are immune to a disease, you can be exposed to it without becoming infected.”

Vaccines can be important to protect against diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and more. Depending on where you’re travelling to, it is important to research what immunizations are needed for the region and get them done before departing.

2. Diarrhea

Johns Hopkins Medicine defines diarrhea as “when your stools are loose and watery.” Symptoms include: abdominal cramps, stomach pain, bloating, nausea, fever, and dehydration.

It is important to stay hydrated if you experience diarrhea while travelling and avoid food contamination by washing hands often and consuming clean food and water.

Traveler’s diarrhea, sometimes referred to as “Montezuma’s Revenge,” is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects travelers to areas where food and water sanitation practices may be subpar. Mayo Clinic says that it’s caused “by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.”

3. Foodborne Illnesses

The CDC says that every year “48 million people, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die”.

Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps. To avoid foodborne illness while travelling, always make sure your food is cooked thoroughly and eat at reputable restaurants with clean kitchens.

Examples of foodborne germs and illnesses include: Norovirus, Salmonella (non-typhoidal), Clostridium perfingens, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus aureus.

4. Malaria 

Malaria is a parasitic infection spread by mosquitoes that live in tropical regions of Africa, Asia and South America. Symptoms typically include fever, chills, nausea and headache but can also cause more severe complications if left untreated. It’s important to be aware of the potential for malaria in areas you will be visiting before your trip so you can take adequate precautions such as wearing insect repellent or sleeping under a mosquito net at night time.

According to Unicef, nearly half the world’s population – about 3.2 billion people – are at risk of malaria.

5. Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness occurs when people ascend too quickly from sea level to higher altitudes which affects how their body adjusts to reduced oxygen levels in the atmosphere. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, fatigue and shortness of breath which should subside within 48 hours if the person descends back down to lower altitude levels or takes a few days acclimating at the same altitude level they experienced symptoms at.

It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily have to be mountain climbing to be affected either. The United Kingdom’s NHS says “tourists travelling to cities that are 2,500m above sea level or higher, such as La Paz in Bolivia or Bogotá in Colombia, can also get altitude sickness.”

6. Motion Sickness

Motion sickness happens when you feel sick while moving in a car, plane, boat or another vehicle. It can make you feel dizzy and have an upset stomach. According to Mount Sinai, this occurs because “the body, the inner ear, and the eyes send conflicting signals to the brain.” says that the following steps can help prevent it or relieve symptoms:

  • If on a train, sit next to a window
  • If on a plane, sit over the wing
  • If in a car, opt for the front passenger seat
  • If on a boat, choose the midpoint
  • Get plenty of air
  • Avoid reading while moving in a vehicle
  • Avoid a heavy meal before travel
  • Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol
  • Lie down if you feel unwell
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