Travelling with Chronic Kidney Disease
Travel Tips from Dr Ruth Handford
Many people in the UK live with Chronic Kidney Disease and with a bit of planning it shouldn’t stop them from enjoying a holiday abroad.
What is Chronic Kidney Disease?
The kidney’s primary role is in filtration – removing toxins from the blood, and retaining water and useful salts. This filtration can be measured using a blood test called the GFR (Glomerular Filtration Rate). The higher the number, the better the kidneys are doing their job.
When the GFR falls below 90, we start to talk about Chronic Kidney Disease – or CKD. Depending on the GFR number, you may be classified as having CKD stage 2 (GFR 60-89), CKD stage 3 (GFR 30-59), CKD stage 4 (GFR 15-29), or CKD stage 5 (GFR <15).
If you have CKD stage 3, you are likely to be monitored with blood tests only, or perhaps be on a medication called an ACE inhibitor. People with CKD stage 4 or 5 are more likely to need closer monitoring and perhaps the specialist care of a Renal Physician at a hospital. CKD stage 5 patients often need dialysis to take over the lost function of the kidney, or may even be considered for a kidney transplant.
The thing to remember is, the GFR naturally drops with age. The decline is gradual and slow, and does not cause problems for the vast majority of people. It is when the drop in GFR is sudden, or more rapid than usual, that the condition requires treatment.
Travelling with Chronic Kidney Disease stage 3:
If you have CKD stage 3 or 2, there are no issues with travel. Keeping well hydrated is vital to keep the kidneys healthy for anyone, so bear this in mind when travelling in a hot environment or if you develop a sickness or diarrhoea bug.
If you do take medication called ACE inhibitors (ending in ‘-pril’; eg Ramipril, enalapril, captopril), make sure you stop them if you do develop a diarrhoeal or vomiting illness. You can restart them when your symptoms settle down.
Travelling with Chronic Kidney Disease stage 4 or 5:
Most medication is processed by the kidneys at some point, so it is likely that whatever you are on is important! Don’t forget to take extra medication with you in case some is lost. It is a good idea to take supplies in hand luggage as well as hold luggage in case baggage gets lost or delayed. Make sure you take a list of your medications and dosages with you too, just in case you need to see a Doctor whilst away.
Your GP should be happy to provide you with your most recent kidney function test results, which could be very useful if you were to become unwell whilst overseas. Make sure you organise this in plenty of time before your trip.
If you become dehydrated, kidney function can deteriorate. There is no need to drink more than you would usually at home, unless you are travelling somewhere hot and humid, when you will need to increase the amount you drink. Also, increase your fluid intake if you have diarrhoea or vomiting whilst away.
It is sensible to take some oral rehydration salts with you, as they can replace lost salts and minerals very quickly if you have diarrhoea or vomiting.
If you receive dialysis, discuss travel plans in advance with your dialysis centre. Most will have experience of arranging dialysis at other units to accommodate travel plans. This may be more difficult if you are planning a trip to somewhere far flung – so prepare to be flexible with your choice of destination.
Also, you will need to book in to another unit in advance, so try to be flexible with dates to ensure you can be accommodated.
Make sure you have all your medical information with you – as well as ensuring your dialysis unit send it to the other unit prior to your trip. You will need your prescriptions, recent blood results, your dialysis prescriptions, general health information, and dialysis treatment records.
If you have had a kidney transplant, you are likely to be on some medication to prevent rejection. This works by changing your immune response. This may make you more vulnerable to infections, so make sure you are fully immunised prior to travelling. Consider taking some precautionary antibiotics with you. Discuss this with your GP or Renal Physician in advance of your trip.
Make sure you take a summary of your medical history with you, along with your prescribed medication and a copy of recent blood results.
Always consult your own doctor before travelling
These travel tips are intended to provide general information to those with CKD or Chronic Kidney Disease. They do not replace a visit to your doctor . If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.
About Dr Ruth Handford
Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years' experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.
Important Information: These travel tips are intended to provide general information to those with CKD or Chronic Kidney Disease. They do not replace a visit to your doctor . If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.
Travel Insurance for Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend that you have travel insurance in place every time you travel abroad. Make sure that your insurers are aware that you chronic kidney disease and ensure that your travel insurance provides cover for this; as well any other medical conditions you may have.