Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes inflammation, pain, and swelling of joints and, over time, can damage your joints. It may limit your mobility but it certainly shouldn't stop you from enjoying a holiday. However, to ensure a trouble-free trip, you will need to do some forward planning.
Build in rest – doctor's orders!
If you have RA, it's important to keep active to reduce stiffening up – but rest is also essential to reduce the risk of flare-ups of your condition. So a full-on activity holiday is not the best idea. Planning a trip with some sightseeing is fine, but build in rest days and don't take on too much.
Check in with your healthcare professional
There are lots of factors to take into account when you're travelling, especially if you have a condition like RA. Make an appointment with your GP or specialist nurse 6-8 weeks before you go – or ideally before you finalise your booking. They can advise on activities and foods to avoid, medications to take, and if necessary provide a supply for emergencies such as steroid tablets or stronger painkillers if you have a flare-up.
Think about vaccinations
Depending on which foreign country you're travelling to, travel vaccinations or antimalarial medications may be advised. If you're taking some 'biologic' medications to control your RA symptoms, check with your medical team first about which travel vaccinations are suitable for you. Avoid trips to countries where you can't be fully vaccinated – infectious diseases are bad enough if your immune system is working at full capacity, but if your immune system is suppressed by medication, they can be even more severe.
You may use joint supportive devices such as splints, or a walking aid such as a stick or walking frame. It's important to leave room in your packing for all such devices – you never know when you might need them. A foldable cane is worth considering if you don't need one all the time. You can take a walking frame through airport security – but whether you'll be able to keep it in the cabin depends on the airline policy. Check-in with your airline before you leave.
On the day of travel
Do build in enough time to get to the airport without rushing. If you're taking public transport, check accessibility for every leg, and remember that getting on and off is harder if you have luggage.
You have a right to special assistance if your mobility is limited. However, you'll need to arrange it well in advance – either through your travel agent, tour operator, or airline. If you have your own wheelchair, you should be able to use it right up to the departure gate and it should be returned to you at the arrival gate. The airport will arrange one for you if you don't have your own.
You may need to allow extra time for check-in and getting to the gate if you need assistance. The Civil Aviation Authority website gives full details of how to ensure everything goes smoothly.
Ideally, try to arrange an aisle seat so you don't have to climb over other passengers or ask them to move. Do remember that if you have difficulty moving quickly in an emergency, you probably won't be able to sit next to an emergency exit.
Do you need injections?
You're allowed to carry essential medications with you in your hand luggage, including liquid medications and hypodermic syringes. However, you should always carry medicines in their original packaging and be aware that airport staff may need to open your containers at security to screen the liquid. Medical equipment will be screened separately.
If you're taking biological medicine, check in advance the temperature it needs to be kept at. If they have to be cool, take an insulated cool bag and make sure there's a fridge at your destination.
If you're taking medication – especially strong painkillers or injections – you'll need a copy of your prescription or a letter from your doctor.
Are your drugs controlled?
Many strong painkillers are controlled drugs – the Government website carries a list of controlled drugs where you can check your painkillers. If you do need medication in the controlled drug category, you must:
- Check with the embassy website of the country you're visiting, to make sure it's allowed (some countries prohibit people from entering with certain controlled drugs, no matter whether you have proof that they have been prescribed for you).
- Take a letter from your doctor proving that the medicine was prescribed for you. This must include your name, the country/countries you're going to, a list of your medicine (including how much you have, doses, and the strength), and your doctor's signature. You'll need to request this well in advance and you'll have to pay for it.
- Carry your medicine in its original packaging.
Get your medication sorted
Make sure you take enough medication to last the whole time you're away, with a few days' extra in case of delays. Carry it with you in your hand luggage and ideally split it with someone else you're travelling with, just in case your hand luggage goes astray.
Do keep medicine in its original packaging and carry a copy of your repeat prescription or if needed, a doctor's letter. Ideally have an electronic copy too, so you know everything you're taking in case of accidents.
Check your insurance cover
If you have RA, you must declare it when you're booking travel insurance – otherwise, your insurance could be invalid. It's always best to choose a specialist travel insurance company, so you'll be confident all eventualities are covered.Get a quote
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ll only show you quotes from providers who are able to cover emergency medical expenses (including repatriation to the UK) if you catch the virus whilst travelling abroad.
Some of our providers are able to offer additional cover, such as cancellation cover should you catch COVID-19 or have to self-isolate because of suspected symptoms before departure. We’ll make it clear who these providers are when you’re comparing quotes so you can choose the policy that is right for you.
This doesn’t apply to all insurance providers, so unless otherwise stated, for all other sections of cover, you wouldn’t be covered if making a claim as a result of COVID-19.
For more information, we recommend reading our full guide here.