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Tips for Traveling With IBS

Don't let your IBS symptoms keep you from seeing the world or visiting relatives. With planning and perseverance, you can have a wonderful vacation.
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WebMD Feature

Visions of vacations dance in many heads at this time of year. But if you're one of the estimated 58 million people in the U.S. with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the idea may sound torturous.

It's bad enough to worry about recurring symptoms of bloating, gas, stomach cramping, constipation, or diarrhea when in your own hometown. What about when in unfamiliar territory?

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Plus, your digestive system may be so finicky that any changes in routine may aggravate symptoms.

Such worries prevent many people from taking out-of-town trips. In a survey of 1,000 Americans, 28% of respondents with IBS-like symptoms avoided travel at least once in the past year, reports the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD).

Nonetheless, IBS patients need not be deprived of holiday travel.

"If it's something that you're really looking forward to doing, by all means, do it," says Nancy Norton, the IFFGD's president and founder. "We talk to people (with IBS) all the time who have been apprehensive about traveling, but they go and let us know they've had a wonderful time."

With courage, preparation, and determination, it is possible to explore new places with IBS. Perhaps the trip, if relaxing, could even have a therapeutic effect.

Of course the hassles of travel, such as lost luggage, unhappy kids, or a bout of traveler's diarrhea, could work against that. But even then, you may be able to use the same stress management strategies used for daily pressures at home.

Stress busters include eating a well-balanced diet appropriate for your IBS, getting enough sleep and exercise, meditation, and doing something enjoyable.

Reducing stress may, indeed, be one of the crucial elements to a good retreat.

"There's definitely a benefit to taking a vacation, but people need to plan it so that it's not too stressful," says Sheila Crowe, MD, a gastroenterologist and spokeswoman for the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). "Don't feel like you have to see all the sights in the city. Maybe just enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and then only see two sights instead of four."

It's important to do things you want to do rather than things you feel you ought to do, such as visiting everything and everyone, says Crowe. Resist over-planning and leave room for spontaneity. Yet plan enough so that you know there are safe places to go to the bathroom.

Here are a few more tips from the experts on how to ease travel with IBS:

Before Your Trip

  • Choose a destination that you will enjoy. "Anyplace calm and relaxing is probably good," says Edward Blanchard, PhD, professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany. He says a frenetic, multicity tour of Europe might be more difficult for IBS patients.
  • Check travel advisories for different parts of the world. This is a smart thing to do even if you don't have IBS. The CDC web site (www.cdc.gov) has a traveler's health section. It contains information about disease risks (such as travelers' diarrhea), vaccinations, and other prophylactics. Make sure to visit the site well before your trip as some immunizations take weeks to become effective.
  • Ask a lot of questions. Knowing the who, what, when, where, and how of your journey can help avert stress and anxiety. Allow enough time to get to places to avoid rushing and to have time to assess a situation. "The less surprised one is, the better," says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, author of the American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion. "The only surprises should be delightful surprises because you're in a beautiful place, or you discover a fantastic buy on silver."

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