Travelling with IBD
Last Updated: 19/08/2019
You may find the thought of travelling daunting if you have Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, but with adequate preparation there is no reason why you cannot travel and experience everything the world has to offer.
People with IBD are exposed to two main risks during travel1
- Relapse (flare) of IBD due to gastrointestinal infections acquired during travel, change in dietary habits, forgetting to take your medication or unavailability of IBD medication.
- Acquiring infectious diseases common to developing countries, which may be more severe in IBD patients who are immunosuppressed.
Good planning and research will help to reduce these risks. The information in this section gives you practical advice on traveling with IBD.
Planning your trip
It may be useful to consider the following:
- It is better to travel when your IBD is stable. This will prevent the risk of a flare-up and also reduce your insurance premiums.
- Always ensure you have adequate travel insurance to cover your IBD.
- Obtain a letter from your specialist outlining your medical history and medication.
- Consider your travel destination. A backpacking trip around Burma will carry different risks and need more preparation than going to America. Take into consideration your current health and the facilities available in the country you are visiting.
- Do you need any vaccinations before your trip? You may need these up to 8 weeks before you travel so plan ahead and visit a travel clinic. You may also be taking medication that prevents you from having some vaccinations. See our vaccination page for more details.
- Ensure you take an adequate supply of medication with you. Our travel with medication page has more advice regarding this.
- Always pack a sunscreen to protect from UVA and UVB rays. Some medication used in IBD such as azathioprine or mercaptopurine can make your skin more sensitive to the sun and therefore sunscreen is even more important to prevent the risk of skin cancers.
- If you are on medication that needs to be kept cold, does your accommodation have an in-room fridge?
- Choose accommodation to suit you. Does it have a private or shared bathroom? If shared, is the bathroom on the same floor?
- If stress makes your symptoms worse, then plan your trip to be as stress free as possible. A busy itinerary may sound great, however you may feel so exhausted, you cannot enjoy your trip.
- Escorted or independent travel? A tour may save time and worry of making arrangements. The tour leader will know how to access medical care and where the toilets are.
- Working abroad? If you plan to do welfare work in developing countries you may be at higher risk of some infections. This should be discussed with your IBD team/ travel clinic.
- Mode of travel.
- Bus trips - Ensure there is a toilet onboard, especially for long trips.
- Request an aisle seat where possible
- Request special meals where possible with airlines/ bus company
For information on traveling after surgery and with a stoma, please see our travel after surgery page
IBD should not stop you following your dreams and ambitions. Sharing experiences of travel with IBD is a good way to encourage others. The Blogs below have been written by people with IBD who.
Healthy Globe-trotting Blog
Miss Lizzy Barlow travel Blog
The European federation of Crohn’s and Colitis organisation (EFFCA)4 association website contains useful tips on living with IBD and a list of support groups throughout Europe who you can contact for country specific information or foreign language can’t wait toilet cards http://www.efcca.org/en
You can also obtain a foreign language ‘Can’t wait card’ that explains you have a medical condition meaning you need the toilet urgently from your local Crohn’s and Colitis organisation (e.g Crohn’s and Colitis UK).
See the managing travellers diarrhoea page for more useful information
You may find it useful to join MedicAlert Foundation, http://www.medicalert.org.uk/ an international network in over 100 countries. Emergency personnel and healthcare professionals are trained to recognise your MedicAlert I.D. jewellery so that they can get you the right treatment.
Emergency Travel Kit 4,6
Carrying a kit in your luggage that contains essentials that you may need during your trip will help remove anxiety about traveling away from home and enable you to be more prepared in the event of a bowel accident. It is a good idea to pack this in your hand luggage. Suggested things for the emergency travel kit include:
- A supply of sanitary pads,
- Change of underwear and clothes
- Wet wipes and toilet roll
- Antibacterial hand wash
- A small aerosol odour neutraliser
- Small kit of dressings, tape and saline for wound cleaning etc.
- Multi-lingual can't wait card (see above).
Medication- keep in your hand luggage.
- Antibiotics such a ciprofloxacin for travellers' diarrhoea
- Loperamide or lomitil for diarrhoea relief (This can sometimes hide symptoms of a flare so use with caution)
- Oral rehydration salts (e.g. Dioralye).
- Buscopan or IBS relief medication
- Paracetamol to reduce fevers (beware of products containing codeine- ensure prescriptions are labelled with your name)
- Adequate supply of your regular medication, including steroids in case of a flare.
Sunflower Lanyard for Hidden Disabilities
Wearing a sunflower lanyard enables staff at airports or other travel hubs in the UK to recognise that you have a hidden disability without you needing to declare it. This allows you to travel independently and be offered assistance where needed and available. Obtain these from the special assistance desk at all major airports. Please note, the sunflower lanyard does not give you access to Security or Immigration Fast Track.
Coping with language barriers
Write down a few useful phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. There are many free apps available that can help you with this including Google translate http://translate.google.com/
Some suggestions of phrases to translate include:
“Where is the toilet please?”
“I am ill and need a doctor”
“I have a problem and need help”
“I have a temperature”
"Where is the hospital please?"
“I have abdominal pain”
Source of information:
- Rahier JF, et al, Second European evidence-based consensus on the prevention, diagnosis and management of opportunistic infections in inflammatory bowel disease, J Crohns Colitis 2014; 8: 443-468.
- NHS Choices. Preventing DVT when you travel http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/travelhealth/Pages/PreventingDVT.aspx (last accessed 28/8/2014)
- Nguyen et al. Consensus statements on the risk, prevention and treatment of venous thromboembolism in inflammatory bowel disease: Canadian association of Gastroenterology. Gastroenterology 2014; 146; 835-848.
- Crohn's and Colitis UK. Travel and IBD information sheet. www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk
- Mills D. Travelling well. The must have guide to a safe a healthy journey. – www.travellingwell.com.au (last accessed 28/8/2014)
- Spira A. Preparing the traveller. Travel medicine. 2003:361 1368-1381
- Jen Farmer ( @jenbalancebelly ) Travel Blog www.abalancedbelly.co.uk