I've had the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome -- a gastrointestinal disorder -- for my whole life, but when I was younger, I didn't realize anything was wrong. My parents thought my cramps, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea were normal because they had similar symptoms. So I thought it was normal, too. As I grew up, I pretty much just coped with it. It was inconvenient, but I did my best.
But three years ago, when I was 27, after having some minor surgery done, I had the worst symptoms ever...
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.
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: