Gastrointestinal Prophylaxis in Sports Medicine

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Because sports participation at all levels often requires international travel, coaches, athletic trainers, and team physicians must effectively protect athletes from gastrointestinal infections. Traveler’s diarrhea is the most common travel-related illness and can significantly interfere with training and performance.

Evidence Acquisition:

A review of relevant publications was completed using PubMed and Google Scholar.

Study Design:

Clinical review.

Level of Evidence:

Level 5


Enterotoxigenic and enteroaggregative Escherichia coli are the most common bacterial causes of traveler’s diarrhea. Traveler’s diarrhea generally occurs within 4 days of arrival, and symptoms tend to resolve within 5 days of onset. There are several prophylactic agents that physicians can recommend to athletes, including antibiotics, bismuth subsalicylate, and probiotics; however, each has its own unique limitations. Decision-making should be based on the athlete’s destination, length of stay, and intent of travel.


Prophylaxis with antibiotics is highly effective; however, physicians should be hesitant to prescribe medication due to the side effects and risks for creating antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. Antibiotics may be indicated for high-risk groups, such as those with a baseline disease or travelers who have little flexible time. Since most cases of traveler’s diarrhea are caused by food and/or water contamination, all athletes should be educated on the appropriate food and water consumption safety measures prior to travel.

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