IBD: Traveling with an Uninvited Guest

How to stay as healthy as possible when vacationing with IBD

Tips to make traveling away from Los Angeles and Hollywood with IBD

If you’ve been living with Crohn’s disease or another form of IBD, summer may arouse feelings of despondency or discontent. Though you may enjoy the warm weather and sunny skies, this is the time of year in which many people take a vacation, a practice often discouraged or dreaded in those who suffer from IBD.

Travel often means exploring new and unfamiliar places in which you may not know where the nearest bathroom is, and this is a big stressor for many people with IBD. IBD patients are also often told to avoid travel because of an increased risk of infection or a bad flare-up in a location with limited medical facilities or poor hygiene, particularly in developing countries. However, the actual data regarding an increased travel risk for IBD patients is slim, meaning some may want to reconsider their decision to forego vacation plans this summer.

Studying IBD Travel Trouble

Researchers at the Sheba Medical Center and Sackler School of Medicine in Israel set out to investigate the actualities of travel-related illness in IBD patients. Comparing IBD travelers to a control group of healthy patients in a retrospective study, researchers found that the actual increased risk for IBD patients was small.

Most incidents of illness in IBD patients constituted mild IBD flares and were not related to any other form of infection. In fact, the incidence of illness in IBD patients was the same as in healthy travelers when going to developing countries and tropical areas, though IBD patients were slightly more likely to experience travel-related illness in developed nations.

Studies like this one do not represent absolute fact, and every IBD patient should speak with his or her doctor before making travel arrangements to ensure that the trip will be a healthy decision. Still, studies like this one give hope to IBD patients who have, until now, avoided vacations out of fear from traveling with IBD.

Regardless of the risks, there are many things that IBD sufferers can do to make any trip as comfortable and safe as possible. If you’re planning a trip this summer, keep these tips in mind.

Don’t drink the water.

When traveling abroad, particularly to less-developed countries, contaminants in water can cause diarrhea and other stomach issues—even in those who don’t have IBD. You should use bottled water at all times, even when brushing your teeth and remember to avoid swallowing water when showering and swimming. You should also avoid non-carbonated drinks like iced teas and fresh juices.

Fill prescriptions before leaving.

It can be very difficult to fill prescriptions abroad, so be sure to do it before you leave the country. You should carry your medication in its original container and carry a copy of your prescription, if possible, to provide proof of its legitimacy if needed. Make sure you bring your medications with you when you travel by bus or plane.

Be careful with your food.

For best results in staying flare-up free on vacation, you should avoid the following foods when traveling:

  • Ice and ice cream
  • Raw veggies, salads, meat, fish and shellfish
  • Anything from vendor carts or prepared foods like potato salads
  • Uncooked dairy products, unless certain of sterility and pasteurization

You should also try to peel all fruits and egg shells yourself and avoid eating foods that have been sitting for long periods of time to circumvent contamination.

Know where to go.

It can be difficult to navigate an unusual new place, especially in a foreign country, but a little preparation can go a long way. To help travel go smoothly, find out in advance if trains and buses have toilets available, or request an aisle seat adjacent to the bathroom if traveling by plane.

You may also want to keep your doctor’s phone number handy in case of an emergency, or do some research ahead of time to find a reliable doctor in the area you will be visiting. You can also ask your doctor for a plan of action in case your condition worsens during travel, or ask about what symptomatic signs may indicate danger. The better prepared you are, the more you’ll be able to avoid and solve emergencies when they arise.

Don’t let IBD ruin your summer plans—with care, IBD patients can be just as safe and healthy on vacation as those who do not suffer from the disease. Be sure to study these tips and ask your doctor for advice before booking a trip.