Crohn’s disease is a long-term disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and abdominal pain. These symptoms can make some aspects of international travel challenging for a person with Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

People with IBD, including Crohn’s disease, may have certain anxieties related to international travel. One survey of people with IBD revealed that 30% of people reported that IBD limited their travel, and 40% said that it affected their choice of destination.

There are a number of things that a person can do to remove some of the stress associated with traveling with Crohn’s disease.

In this article, we outline some things a person should consider before traveling. We also offer tips that may help make international travel less stressful.

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A person with Crohn’s disease may worry that if they travel abroad they will not be able to receive expert medical care if they need it.

One way to remove this anxiety ahead of time is to identify specialized doctors who are located in the place or places that the person is going to visit.

A person can contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT). This organization aims to minimize health-related risks for travelers. It is able to provide members with a list of English-speaking doctors in a number of different countries.

A person may also wish to contact the United States embassy or consulate in the country that they are planning to visit. These organizations should be able to provide a list of doctors and healthcare providers that a person can use if needed.

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, some embassies and consulates can even provide the names and information for local specialists.

If a person has Crohn’s disease they may find flying stressful due to the need for regular access to a bathroom. Here are some strategies:

On the plane

A person can try to book a seat on the plane that is in the aisle. This means they will not have to keep asking someone to get up when they use the bathroom.

They may also wish to book a seat as close to the airplane bathrooms as possible.

On arrival

Finding bathrooms when abroad is also something that people may have to consider.

There are a number of things that a person could do to make this easier, including:

  • learning how to say certain words and phrases in the country’s native language to make finding and accessing a bathroom easier
  • downloading translation apps on their smartphone to help make communicating easier
  • purchasing electronic pocket translators to make communicating easier

A person may also wish to travel with a number of things that may help in certain situations. These include:

  • a personal supply of toilet paper
  • soothing wipes
  • ointments
  • plastic bags for the disposal of, or for storing, soiled clothes
  • extra changes of underwear and clothes
  • hand sanitizer in bottles small enough to go through airport security

It is very important that a person with Crohn’s disease travels with their prescription medications and brings enough to last their entire trip. They should take the medications as prescribed throughout their trip in order to avoid flare-ups of symptoms.

Here are some other tips related to prescription medication:

At the airport

The Crohns and Colitis Foundation recommends that people with Crohn’s disease request a typed and signed statement from their physician that describes their medical history. They state that this may be useful if customs officials question why the person is traveling with medication.

It is a good idea to take medication onto the airplane in their carry-on bag. This ensures the person will have their medication with them even if the airline loses their checked luggage.

Out and about

A person may wish to bring a pill box with them so that they can carry smaller amounts of medication throughout the day. This allows them to leave the rest of the medication in its original container somewhere safe when they are going out.

A person with Crohn’s disease may need to visit a medical center abroad during their trip. This means it is a good idea for people traveling outside of the U.S. to ensure that they have medical insurance that covers them in a number of situations.

A person may wish to purchase an insurance package that covers:

  • emergency room visits
  • visits to doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • prescription medications
  • other medical services that they may require

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s IBD Help Center can help provide a person with a list of international medical insurance resources.

Learn about Medicare Advantage and international travel here.

It is important that a person with Crohn’s is prepared and knows what to do in the event of a medical emergency. They could share this information with the people traveling with them.

This includes:

  • getting a written action plan from their doctor outlining what to do if their condition worsens while away
  • finding out before the trip what toilet access is like, including whether buses and trains are equipped with them
  • informing the airline of their condition before the trip so staff can accommodate any dietary needs and assist in the event of an emergency
  • keeping their doctor’s information, including their phone number, on them at all times
  • keeping their insurance information on them at all times

Learn what to do during a Crohn’s flare-up here.

Airport screening and security can be stressful for someone with Crohn’s disease.

A person is legally permitted to take ostomy supplies through security checkpoints at airports. It is important that a person with an ostomy alerts security personnel so that they can respond accordingly. They are trained to handle it sensitively and to be accommodating of people’s medical requirements.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) offers information to travelers with medical conditions on its website. The TSA can also offer downloadable medical cards for people with special medical requirements. A person can then show this card to security personnel in order to inform them that they may need special screening.

A person with Crohn’s disease may have to carry liquid medications or nutritional supplements that are in excess of 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters). This means they should have a written declaration of their needs from a doctor or the TSA to ensure they can take it through the security checkpoint.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), travelers’ diarrhea is the most predictable travel-related illness. The CDC states that it affects between 30–70% of travelers, depending on where and when they are traveling.

People with Crohn’s disease are more likely to experience diarrhea due to their condition. This means they may wish to take a number of steps to avoid diarrhea while traveling, including:

  • avoiding drinking tap water
  • if they do have to drink tap water, boiling it first
  • only drinking bottled mineral water
  • using bottled mineral water for brushing teeth
  • not allowing shower water to get into their mouth
  • not swallowing water when swimming
  • avoiding ice in drinks
  • not eating raw vegetables and salad
  • not eating raw meat, fish, or shellfish
  • not consuming unpasteurized, uncooked dairy products
  • not eating food from a street vendor

Treating traveler’s diarrhea

If a person with Crohn’s disease does get traveler’s diarrhea, then there are some things that they can do to reduce symptoms, including:

  • drinking plenty of safe fluids
  • taking extra salt, which can help prevent dehydration
  • taking over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications, after consulting their physician

Learn more tips to treat diarrhea quickly here.

Here are some practical tips that may help a person traveling with Crohn’s disease:

  • Arrive early at the airport: If a person arrives 2–3 hours before their flight then they should have more time to get through security checkpoints and use the restrooms a number of times before boarding the plane.
  • Have pocket change available: Some airports in other countries may charge small fees to people for using public restrooms. Having some coins readily available can make getting access to bathrooms easier.
  • Have an “I Can’t Wait” card: These cards contain language and information that can help a person with Crohn’s disease get instant access to a bathroom. This can help them explain why it is a medical requirement for that person to be first in line for a bathroom. It can also help a person use an employee-only bathroom in an emergency.
  • Pack food that does not make symptoms worse: When abroad a person may not always have access to the types of food that they can tolerate. It can be a good idea to pack some food and snacks so they have an option if they are stuck with only certain foods available.
  • Bring spare clothes: It is a good idea to pack spare underwear and spare clothes to change into in an emergency. A person should also pack plastic bags to store soiled clothes in.
  • Pack extra medication: A person should pack additional medication so they will not run out if they lose some during their trip. It is also worth bringing all medication in a carry-on bag so they are not left without medication if the airline loses their luggage.

Here is a checklist of things that a person with Crohn’s disease may want to take with them on international trips:

  • medication, including spare medication
  • a personal supply of toilet paper
  • soothing wipes
  • ointments
  • plastic bags for the disposal of, or to store, soiled clothes
  • extra changes of underwear and clothes
  • hand sanitizer
  • food and snacks
  • an “I Can’t Wait” card
  • travel insurance documentation
  • a list of local medical centers and IBD specialists in the area they are visiting
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Crohn’s disease can mean a person has to do more to prepare for international travel. A person with Crohn’s disease may have anxiety about finding toilets, being on an airplane for long periods of time, and how foreign cuisine might impact their symptoms.

They may also worry about finding medical care in the event of an emergency while abroad.

A person can do a number of things to help make travel easier. They can find the information of medical professionals in the area where they will be traveling. They can also pack with their situation in mind, bringing spare clothes, plastic bags, hand sanitizer, snacks, and their own personal supply of toilet paper.

It is also important that a person with Crohn’s disease purchases the right travel insurance so they have coverage for all eventualities.