Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Sarah is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and is the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

Having ulcerative colitis shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a well-earned holiday. But it does require some advanced planning to allow you to come back feeling relaxed and well-rested, instead of more stressed than when you left.


My top tips

  1. Think about your priorities when planning your holiday. For many people with UC, being able to access a toilet is a major consideration, so wild camping or extreme trips to remote areas may be inappropriate for you.

  2. Don’t take it for granted that hotels in every country will have their own bathroom – check with your travel provider in advance. If you’re taking medicine that needs to be kept refrigerated, take it with you in a cool bag or vacuum flask and make sure the hotel can provide safe storage in a fridge.

  3. It’s also worth considering the catering that will work best for you. For instance, if your diet is limited, would you be better off at a destination where the food is similar to that you can access at home? Would self-catering be a more suitable option? Can the hotel accommodate your dietary needs?

  4. Make sure you have all your travel vaccinations up to date. Some medications for UC can affect your immune system, increasing the chance that you will become seriously unwell if you get an infection. Speak to your practice nurse at least 2 months before you travel.

  5. There is some evidence that people with UC can experience flare-ups of their symptoms in the month after they fly. It’s not clear if this is just due to changing air pressure and oxygen levels on planes, or how much of a part an altered diet on holiday plays.

  6. If you’re on a low residue diet, let your airline know. Consider packing a supply of food which you know is unlikely to worsen your symptoms in case you find yourself in situations where appropriate food is limited.

  7. Pack a travel kit with essentials such as a change of underwear/clothes, plastic storage bag, wet wipes, and toilet paper – and take a small rucksack so you can take this out with you while you’re away.

  8. Order your repeat medications well in advance from your GP practice. Take a copy of your repeat prescription with you, and pack your medicines in your hand luggage in their original packaging.

  9. If you’re using enemas, you’ll need a letter from your doctor to allow you to take them on board in your hand luggage – there may be a charge for this. This requirement also applies to any liquid, cream or gel medications with a volume of more than 100ml.

  10. You may need to stock up on non-prescription medicines (such as anti-diarrhoea medication or rehydration sachets). Do be aware that some medications readily available in the UK – including some that can be bought over the counter in pharmacies – may be banned or restricted in other countries.

  11. Always check the website of the embassy of the country/countries you’re travelling to for details of restricted medications. The most common medications affected are strong painkillers, but they aren’t the only ones. For more details, read our article on travelling with medication.

  12. If you use controlled drugs such as some codeine-based painkillers, contact the Home Office Drugs Branch – you may need a personal license to take these drugs abroad. Your pharmacist can let you know if any of the medicines you take are controlled.

  13. It’s essential that steroid tablets aren’t stopped suddenly – this can make you severely unwell. If you take steroid tablets, get a card from any pharmacy or a MedicAlert bracelet from the MedicAlert Foundation. This means emergency services will be aware of the need to check the medicine you take.

  14. If you have ulcerative colitis, you’re at higher risk of having a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – a clot on the leg that can travel to the lung. The likelihood of DVT is slightly increased by air travel, so it’s particularly important to take steps to reduce your risk:
    • Keep up your intake of non-alcoholic fluid.
    • Avoid alcohol, which can lead to dehydration and make blood thicker.
    • Exercise your calf muscles regularly during your flight – most airlines include details of exercises in their in-flight magazines.
    • Get up and walk around the aircraft cabin regularly – you might want to request an aisle seat, which will also make it easier if you need to get to the toilet.
    • Avoid sleeping tablets – these often mean you don’t move at all, which can put more pressure on your calf muscles and increase the risk of a clot forming.
    • Consider graduated compression stockings (from your pharmacist) during flights.

  15. Always make sure you take out travel insurance with a specialist provider. If you don’t have the correct cover, or if you don’t declare all relevant conditions you have, it could invalidate any claim you make.
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