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Managing IBD Away From Home

Tips from the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America:

For your own comfort and peace of mind, when you are going away from home, it helps to plan your itinerary in advance, and be very practical.

  • Learn where the restrooms are located in restaurants, shopping areas, on a trip, or while using public transportation.
  • Always carry extra underclothing or toilet tissue in case of sudden need.
  • Try to be matter-of-fact about your needs and your attacks of pain. In this way, you will be able to help yourself and gain cooperation from others because they will follow your lead and understand.
  • Learning more about how your body reacts to certain food groups also may be a big help. You might want to try an elimination diet, in which you stop eating certain foods, then gradually reintroduce them to see how your gut reacts to each one.
  • Avoiding foods that your gut cannot tolerate may help keep you well.

Traveling with IBD

Don't avoid a dream vacation or business trip because you suffer from Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Whether traveling abroad or here in the States, these tips will come in handy.

Locating a doctor

  • Ask your doctor for the names of physicians in the cities you plan to visit.
  • For a donation, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (417 Center Street, Lewiston, NY 14092; 716-754-4883) provides lists of English-speaking doctors in many countries.
  • The American Embassy's Consulate Section has a list of local doctors broken down by specialization.

Traveling with prescription drugs

  • Bring enough medication to last throughout your trip. Filling a prescription abroad can be complicated.
  • Always carry your medication with you on the plane.
  • Keep your medication in its original container. Use pillboxes to carry small amounts needed during the course of a day.
  • A typed statement from your physician, describing your medical history and the drugs you are taking, will be helpful if customs officials question you or if an emergency arises.
  • Let your pharmacist know if you are taking medication out of the country.
  • Get copies of all prescriptions, including foreign brand names or generic names.

How to avoid traveler's diarrhea

Diarrhea afflicts one out of three U.S. travelers to less developed countries. These tips can help prevent an unpleasant bout of "Montezuma's revenge":

  • "Don't drink the water" – unless you boil it first.
  • Drink bottled mineral water, even when brushing your teeth.
  • Try not to swallow the water when showering.
  • Don't swallow water when swimming in fresh water, swimming pools, or where the ocean may be polluted.
  • Avoid non-carbonated beverages, such as iced tea and fresh juices.
  • Avoid all ice and ice cream; raw vegetables and salads; raw or uncooked meat, fish, or shellfish.
  • Avoid uncooked dairy products unless you are certain that they have been pasteurized and prepared under sterile conditions.
  • Never eat food from vendors' carts.
  • Never eat prepared food, such as potato salad and canapes.
  • Peel all fruits and egg shells yourself.
  • Never eat food that has been allowed to sit until it reaches room temperature.

Remedies for traveler's diarrhea

  • Drink plenty of fluids, preferably lukewarm or weak tea. Boil all water first!
  • Avoid ice-cold beverages, sodas, or citrus drinks, which could aggravate diarrhea.
  • Take extra salt to prevent dehydration.
  • Anti-diarrheal medications, such as Imodium®, or large amounts of Pepto Bismol®, may be effective. Never take any of these drugs without consulting your physician.

How to control a medical emergency

  • Ask your doctor for a written plan of action in case your condition worsens while you're traveling.
  • Find out in advance whether buses and trains have toilets. When making airline reservations, request an aisle seat near a bathroom.
  • Give the airline advance notice so it can accommodate your diet needs, or bring a snack of your own.
  • Keep your doctor's phone number and your insurance card in your wallet.
  • Ask your health insurance carrier whether your policy covers foreign travel, as well as previously diagnosed chronic conditions.

Danger signals for the traveler with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis

If you experience any of these danger signals while traveling, consult a physician immediately:

  • High fever and shaking chills could represent a bacterial inflammation that requires intravenous antibiotics.
  • Profuse bloody diarrhea suggests marked ulceration of the intestines, caused by a bacterium, parasite, or a major flare-up of colitis.
  • Severe abdominal pain and/or abdominal distension could indicate a complication of your disease, especially if accompanied by severe abdominal tenderness or nausea and vomiting.
  • Dizziness on standing up or an episode of fainting may indicate lowered blood pressure. The cause could be with malfunction of the adrenal gland, an indication that your steroid dose may need to be adjusted.
  • Scanty, concentrated urine could indicate dehydration.