Travelling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Travel Tips from Dr Ruth Handford

A holiday should be a relaxing, restful time when your IBS symptoms are at their least troublesome. By taking simple measures to avoid a flare up, or prepare yourself should you get one, you can relieve the stress and worry of suffering on holiday.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a very common condition in which patients may suffer intermittent symptoms affecting their gut. The types of symptoms vary from person to person, but can include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, excessive wind, and cramps.

The symptoms of IBS are intermittent, and can affect people for hours, days or weeks at a time. Some people notice that there are particular triggers for their IBS symptoms, causing them to be more likely to flare up. Often, there are no identifiable causes or triggers, making it difficult to anticipate a flare up.

Commonly identified triggers of IBS include stress, anxiety, gastroenteritis or food poisoning, change in routine or diet, and changes in medication.

When travelling, it is worth considering several issues when planning your trip and whilst away.

Food and Drink

Going on holiday is a lovely opportunity to enjoy different foods and perhaps the odd tipple. Even if you stick to quite a plain diet, you may find that your IBS flares up in response to a change in diet. This can be exacerbated by dehydration.

Try to make sure you drink bottled water, and avoid becoming dehydrated. If you do drink alcohol, alternate each drink with a soft drink or water, and avoid drinking to excess. Try to avoid ice in drinks as this may be frozen tap water, and could well cause an upset tummy.

Be aware that you may have particular food triggers, and sadly, just because you are on holiday, it doesn’t mean you still won’t respond with a flare of your IBS symptoms! Try to avoid things you know upset your symptoms. If you don’t have any particular food triggers, and your symptoms are hard to predict, make sure you eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and avoid too much fatty food. Again, keeping well hydrated is vital.

Avoid Holiday Stress

Holidays, and in particular travel, can be stressful as well as enjoyable! Stress is a common trigger for IBS, and struggling with symptoms on a long flight or journey can be very uncomfortable.

Try to anticipate potential stressors – arrange the timing of your journeys so you are well rested and not having to rush, prearrange things like parking and your seats on the plane, so you won’t have to worry about logistics. Buy travel insurance to cover your trip and make sure that it provides cover for your IBS and any other medical conditions you have.

Should you face unavoidable stressors – delayed flights, cancelled trips etc., think about how you might manage that. Some people fine mindfulness techniques very useful for relaxation. There are several apps available to download to smartphones which can really help to deal with symptoms of stress and anxiety.

If you are fearful of flying, or suffer with travel sickness, speak to your GP in advance of your trip. There are plenty of medications and techniques to help manage these symptoms and minimise their effects on your IBS.

Managing IBS Symptoms on Holiday

Should you get a flare of symptoms whilst on holiday, ensure you have the right medications and equipment to manage it. If you know that a hot water bottle helps – take one with you. You do not want to be trying to track down things like that in unfamiliar environments.

Some people are prone to constipation with their IBS. If you know that that applies to you, take extra care to keep well hydrated and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. However, also make sure you have some gentle laxatives in case you become uncomfortable. Most of these are available over the counter. Try to take some with you that you know are tried and tested and work for you.

Others tend more towards diarrhoeal symptoms. This can be difficult to manage on long journeys and in unfamiliar surroundings. It is well worth taking some loperamide (available from the chemist) with you to try to minimise symptoms when they are particularly troublesome. Also, make sure you continue to drink and eat well whilst you let the symptoms settle, so as not to become dehydrated.

Painful symptoms like bloating and cramping can be very distressing too. There are lots of medications that can help, and it is worth speaking to your GP if you don’t already have any on prescription. Make sure you take a supply with you in case you need them whilst away. Simple measures like eating peppermint products can ease bloating and cramps, without needing a prescription, or even a chemist.

Take some pain relief with you too – some simple paracetamol or ibuprofen, if you are able to take them, will help with pains and will not cause constipation.

Always consult your own doctor before travelling

These travel tips are intended to provide general information to those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 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 eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions. 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 Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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 have suffer from IBS and ensure that your travel insurance provides cover for this; as well any other medical conditions you may have.