Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhea. Although the condition can make traveling more difficult, preparation can help.
People with UC may worry about bathroom access, food options, and the potential of triggering a flare.
These individuals may wish to plan certain things in advance to make traveling enjoyable and low stress. For instance, they can look into bathroom availability, pack any medications they may need, research food options, and bring a travel pack with hygiene products.
Read more to learn about common travel challenges, tips, and precautions for people with UC.
Although individuals with UC may feel limited at times, flying and other forms of transport are possible with some planning and precautions.
As air travel may make gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms worse, a person should prepare for possible GI distress. A 2014 study found that people with IBD may have an increase in symptoms in the 4 weeks following air travel. The authors suggest that air pressure and oxygen changes inside airplanes could be responsible.
In addition, people with UC should be aware that they have a higher risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). According to a 2014 study, people with IBD are up to
Although DVT is rare, it can be fatal.
Traveling with UC is very doable, and people should not feel restricted by their condition.
However, there are several common challenges to consider, besides the typical jet lag and airport stress. Some of these are:
- Bathroom availability: People can look up bathrooms ahead of time, as many airports include maps of their facilities online. They can also check for rest stops on a car trip, public restrooms in a city, and more.
- Medication: For those taking extended trips away from home, finding replacement medication may be a concern. Another issue is medication that requires refrigeration, such as adalimumab (Humira) and golimumab (Simponi). People should ask their doctors for enough medication to last the duration of their trip and find out whether there are alternatives for medication that needs to stay cold.
- Accommodation: People with UC may find it helpful to book accommodation with its own bathroom. Additionally, if they use refrigerated medication, it is a good idea to call ahead to confirm that there is access to a fridge.
People with UC may find the following travel tips useful:
- Talking with the flight attendants: If they are comfortable doing so, a person should tell the flight attendants about their UC and any potential needs that may arise. The attendants may be able to seat the person closer to the bathroom, provide different food and drinks, and help in case of an emergency.
- Packing food: It is a good idea to bring foods that are unlikely to trigger or worsen UC symptoms. These can be valuable if no safe food options are available on the plane.
- Packing a travel kit: Individuals may wish to consider including a small travel kit in their carry-on luggage. The kit could include baby wipes, toilet paper, sanitary disposal bags, soap, and hand sanitizer.
- Labeling medications: Any medications need to have the correct pharmacy bottles and labels with the person’s name.
- Preventing diarrhea: Individuals going on long flights could consider taking antidiarrheal medications before traveling. However, doctors do not recommend this if the individual is experiencing an IBD flare-up.
- Carrying medical information: People should carry their doctor’s contact information with them, as well as a list of their current medications and dosages.
The correct preparation can help individuals living with UC feel less stressed about any upcoming travel.
Before traveling, it can be helpful to discuss any concerns with a doctor and any travel partners. People can also pack clothes, hygiene products, and safe foods to keep them comfortable.
As part of preparing for a trip, people with UC may find the following useful:
- Talking with a doctor: Individuals should discuss travel plans with their doctor, as traveling is more manageable when UC is well-controlled. A doctor can also help arrange medications at the individual’s destination, recommend appropriate medical care, and help with emergency consultations if a local doctor is unavailable.
- Speaking with any travel partners: Individuals should discuss their condition with any travel partners. People then understand sudden needs to find a bathroom and can help in case of emergency.
- Carrying spare clothing: Keeping an extra outfit and underwear in a carry-on bag means that no matter what happens while traveling, the person can feel comfortable when they arrive.
- Avoiding foods that cause digestive upset: Individuals with UC, particularly those with a stoma, should avoid food and drinks that cause excessive gas or digestive upset directly before traveling. The pressurized air in the cabin can expand gas in the body, and excessive gas can cause stoma bags to expand, potentially causing difficulties.
Even individuals with well-controlled UC can find that their symptoms suddenly flare up during or after a trip.
In some cases, UC can cause life threatening complications. Although these are rare, it is important to be aware of the signs to know when medical help is necessary.
The following are UC emergencies that require immediate medical attention:
- Perforated colon: This is when a hole develops in the bowel. Although the main symptoms are abdominal pain and tenderness, people may also experience fever, nausea, vomiting, and chills.
- Fulminant colitis: This rare condition occurs when severe inflammation affects the colon. The symptoms
includesevere pain, bleeding, and having more than 10 bowel movements a day.
- Toxic megacolon: In people with this condition, the colon enlarges but cannot contract, causing a severe buildup of gas. The symptoms include pain and swelling, fever, a rapid heart rate, and frequent and sometimes bloody diarrhea.
- DVT: People with IBD are up to
three timesmore likely to experience DVT, a blood clot in a deep vein in the leg. The symptoms includeswelling, pain, and tenderness in a limb.
People with UC may experience various challenges associated with traveling and flying. These can include difficulty finding bathrooms, accessing safe foods, and managing potential flares.
Although flying with UC is possible, people should be aware that their symptoms may worsen during or after a flight. However, with adequate preparation, many people with UC can enjoy travel while minimizing the impact on their condition.
People should consider talking with their doctor and travel partners before flying. They can also prepare by packing spare clothing, a travel hygiene kit, safe food snacks, and properly labeled medication.