Your guide to planning a safe and healthy trip with multiple sclerosis
Chris Lombardi is not your ordinary traveler. The 42-year-old writer and educator has multiple sclerosis (MS). But the threat of a disease flare-up didn't keep Lombardi from a recent whirlwind tour of Asia. And according to travel and medical experts, it needn't stop others with MS -- and an itch to travel -- from vacationing either.
Living with multiple sclerosis means living with uncertainty. The course of the disease is very difficult for doctors to predict. Some people live with MS for years without suffering serious symptoms. Others may rapidly become disabled. Why the course of the disease varies so widely remains unclear. One thing is certain. Most people with MS experience periodic relapses, also called flare-ups or attacks. These can be mild or severe. They may show up in many different ways. Symptoms can include:
If you're like most people with MS, you rely on medication to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. But traveling with your medication can be tricky, especially if you take one of the commonly used injectable therapies that require refrigeration.
"Determining, in advance, how you're going to transport your medications is essential," says Robert Fox, medical director of The Cleveland Clinic's Mellon Center for MS.
For starters, know whether your medication can be stored at room temperature and for how long. Some medications that generally require refrigeration can temporarily be stored at room temperature. For instance, Copaxone can remain at room temperature for one week, but it is light-sensitive, so remember to protect it from light when storing it. Rebif can be stored at room temperature for up to 30 days as long as it is not directly exposed to light or heat.
In some instances, flexibility of a medication's formulary can save hassles. Such is the case with Avonex. This medication is available in prefilled syringes, but they can be stored at room temperature for only 12 hours. However, Avonex also comes in a powder, which requires no refrigeration, but it requires reconstitution with sterile water prior to injection. Fox suggests that patients who take Avonex and plan to vacation somewhere that may lack refrigeration ask their doctors for a prescription for the powdered formulation.
If you're planning on flying, the airlines will require you to justify why you're carrying syringes. To this end, Fox suggests having an official labeling of injection medication with you. He also recommends carrying the medication in the original pharmaceutical manufacturer packaging. And although airlines don't require flyers to have the original prescription from your doctor, Fox says, "It can't hurt."