Have Irritable Bowel, Will Travel

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Have Irritable Bowel, Will TravelNot a small number of people suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. These patients are often advised to avoiding travel, particularly the developing world. But in the spirit of unmasking theories that may not be true, here is a health breakthrough that shows these individuals have less to worry about than believed. So buy that plane ticket with a little more confidence.

This is the overall finding of the new study: inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) travelers have an increased risk of illness during trips to industrialized countries, but not to developing or tropical regions. Since the tropics are a huge destination for U.S. travelers, this is very significant for a lot of people.

Researchers found that the “absolute risk” of illness was small and most episodes were mild. If a patient with IBD has been in remission for at least three months, the researchers fully support taking a vacation.

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In this study, doctors studied 222 IBD patients and 224 healthy individuals (controls) who had taken about 1,100 trips. When traveling to industrialized countries, IBD patients experienced illness on 14% of the trips, compared to 3.3% of trips made by controls. But, for developing or tropical regions, the rate of illness was similar and, in fact, lower for IBD patients — 17% compared to 21% for the controls.

This is a surprising finding, because traveler’s diarrhea and other intestinal infectious diseases predominately afflict people visiting developing countries. This shows that IBD travelers do not stand a higher risk of contracting intestinal infections there compared to other travelers. Most interesting: IBD patients who had went on vacation after more than three months without symptoms had an overall similar risk of illness during the trip to that of their healthy counterparts. That was regardless of the destination.

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IBD is a chronic and often debilitating intestinal disorder that adversely affects quality of life, including concern over safety issues in relation to traveling abroad. Doctors’ advice is often to simply avoid traveling, to be safe. But such restrictions impede the overall quality of life of IBD patients.

This study shows that we need not worry so much, particularly if symptoms have not been experienced in three months. But the researchers do stress that travelers to developing and tropic regions of the world are still at risk of infections that are easily preventable through vaccine. As we work into the season of sun-seeking travelers, all this is useful to know.