Traveling With Inflammatory Bowel Disease

A woman traveling with IBD

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis symptoms can often make travel difficult, but with a little bit of planning, you can travel with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis.

Plan Your Healthcare Resources

Whether you’re going across country or around the world, make sure to think about healthcare. Check with insurance company for doctors and specialists in the area who can provide treatment in an emergency. If you’re traveling internationally, check with the U.S. embassy for healthcare resources. Make sure that your insurance policy covers your visit. You might want to purchase international coverage in the country where you’re staying.

Have your doctor write up an action plan that describes your current treatment and what to do if your condition gets worse. Keep your doctor’s number and insurance information in your wallet and on your phone. If you do need to get emergency treatment, this can help the healthcare provider take the best steps. Get a list from your doctor about your medications you are taking and bring copies of prescriptions. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America has a list of brand name and generic medications for international traveling.

Carry your medication with you on the plane. Checked luggage gets misplaced or misrouted. You want your prescription medication with you. Bring enough to last you for the trip, plus a few extra days, just in case. You should keep your medication in the original container. If you’re going through customs, this can be helpful. If you lose your medication, it can also be helpful.

Prepare For Traveling

Pack a small bag with toilet paper, wipes, plastic bags and an extra change of underwear and clothes. Include sanitizer. If you’re flying, use small bottles and pack according to airline security guidelines. If you’re taking a road trip, plan your route based on bathroom availability. Learn to say key phrases in the native country, such as bathroom and urgent. It can also be helpful to have something that identifies you with a chronic condition that makes bathroom use a medical necessity.

Check for bathrooms on trains and airlines. Check with the airline to get a seat close to the bathroom. If you’ll be eating on the plane, find out if the airline can accommodate your dietary requirements. Check the travel regulations for carrying your own snacks and food. You may also want to use accommodations that make traveling easier, early boarding or a wheelchair that can reduce the strain on your body.

Dealing With Travel Security

No one enjoys getting patted down by airport security, but if you have Crohn’s or colitis, it can even more overwhelming. Planning ahead will minimize the discomfort. Go to the TSA website for information about traveling with medical conditions. Download the medical card that you can hand to the agent. Agents are trained to be sensitive to people with medical needs. Pack your essential supplies in your carry on. If in doubt, ask TSA before you travel. Once you get through security, purchase water or another drink.

Avoid Traveler’s Diarrhea

If you’re going to place that is less developed, the food and water could be problematic. In some places, there aren’t a lot of restaurants. There may not be food that is good for your body. Vegetables can be scarce. Do some research so you know what to expect. Even in touristy cities, you should know what types of restaurants have food that you enjoy and can eat. Call ahead and ask the chef specific questions for your condition if you’re concerned. Planning can help you travel more effectively.

Montezuma’s revenge is a common problem for travelers to less-developed countries. Having diarrhea when you have colitis or Crohn’s can be fraught with problems. You can reduce your risk:

  • Use bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth.
  • Don’t drink non-carbonated beverages. Only drink bottled beverages.
  • Don’t let water get in your mouth when showering or swimming, whether it’s fresh water, the ocean or a pool.
  • Avoid raw meat and fish. Have steaks cooked to medium or med-well. No sushi.
  • Avoid raw vegetables and salads.
  • Don’t use ice or eat ice cream.
  • Be careful eating any dairy products unless you are sure that the item was pasteurized and prepared in sterile conditions.
  • Wash fruits with bottled water. Peel fruits yourself.

Know the Symptoms That Are the Most Dangerous For You

Having diarrhea may be a case of drinking or eating something that wasn’t cleaned properly, but it could also be the onset of an emergency. It might be better to err on the side of caution to ensure you catch dangerous symptoms early. If you experience a high fever, bloody diarrhea or severe abdomen cramps, don’t wait to get to the emergency room.

Take Care of Yourself While Traveling

Remember to take your medication while traveling. Bring meal replacement bars that don’t aggravate your condition for times when you get hungry. Drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated while traveling. If you need time to rest and manage your symptoms, take it. Don’t let your condition manage you.

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