Recently I attended the wedding of two close friends. As best man, I had duties that made me more aware of the ‘needs of the happy couple’ on that day. One of the grooms has Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) so quite naturally I could imagine the unease of having a monumental day being disrupted by a chronic condition. What my friend was dealing with on this day is indirectly connected with aspects of my work (the company I work for is focused on treating those withInflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), a different but very serious gastrointestinal disease, with some similar symptoms).
While I may not ever know my friend’s true discomfort of living with IBS, I did start to think about what it would be like for him to travel by air to New Zealand for their honeymoon (imagine severe pain, not being able to eat, coupled with the constant need to access the toilet) and what it’s like to live with such conditions daily.
Spreading awareness and working towards solutions that address this very common problem is an important issue – one that isn’t talked about enough. To put this health problem in perspective, approx. 32 million people in Europe are living with gastrointestinal conditions such as IBD or IBS. On a daily basis they can expect to experience symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea and fatigue, these are often unpredictable and can limit your day to day activities without warning.
Most of us take air travel for work and vacation on a regular basis – it is no different for IBD and IBS travelers, except for them this can be a huge trigger for painful symptoms of their disease. Learning more about the limitations that IBD and IBS sufferers face has led, along with many others, to a personal engagement with this issue. I’ve come across great blogs that I now follow on this very topic (great work @jenbalancebelly!). I am excited to be involved with the #FlyWithIBD campaign (both professionally and personally) which seeks to recommend changes across the airline industry to ensure the health and comfort of IBD/IBS sufferers – changes that stand to benefit everyone.
The airlines have done a lot to help with dietary options for passengers. However, if you look across the major carriers today there aren’t necessarily the in-flight meal options that address dietary restrictions for travelers suffering from certain gastrointestinal diseases. For instance, when choosing meals online, you can tick the box of lactose free or gluten-free, but passengers cannot choose both. Ingredients used in certain meals are not always disclosed, thereby making it tough to know what you can and cannot eat.
The Long Haul
Longer flights can be especially stressful, as my colleague Sarah Heidrich points out here. For travelers living with IBD or IBS, flying for 8+ hours can sometimes mean not eating at all, due to a lack of suitable dietary options served by airlines. There is also the worry of not being able to access a toilet at short notice, along with the potential for cabin pressure to worsen symptoms. These factors combine to not only make air travel difficult, stressful and uncomfortable for many, but also a potential cause of further health problems.
Air travel should be more accommodating to this large group of people. Ingredients, for instance, could be disclosed 48 hours before flights, making planning ahead easier. Drink options could include options beyond soda, coffee/tea and alcohol, all of which can potentially trigger symptoms. Seat prioritization, for instance, would allow travelers with IBD to be seated near a WC. Small measures such as these would go a long way to ensuring the good health and comfort of millions of travelers.
I may never know the effects of living daily with a chronic gastrointestinal condition, however I hope the many people now engaged can make a real difference. Those who #FlyWithIBD should not only be treated with empathy, but also be empowered with simple impactful solutions such as the ones we’re hoping to bring about in support of World IBD Day on 19th May 2016.
I hope this post gives you an insight into the experience of travelling with IBD and IBS. I’d welcome your thoughts on this issue.
Inflammatory bowel diseases, IBD, is a chronic condition of the gastrointestinal tract. Around 3.7 million people live with IBD in Europe (most common forms being Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).
IBD and IBS are very different diseases but have some similar symptoms. In terms of flying, improved menu options and better toilet-access especially for long haul flights, stands to benefit all persons living with gastrointestinal diseases. If you are interested in raising awareness or showing support, go to https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/40080-flywithibd