Your bags are packed. Your flights are booked. Your itinerary is full of sights to see.
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But are you prepared to deal with your arthritis away from home?
Nobody wants to feel limited, and for people with arthritis, planning ahead is especially important. I give the following advice to my patients before they head out to see the world.
1. Find the U.S. embassy
This is incredibly helpful when traveling abroad. If you have a medical emergency, embassy staff can direct you to the best possible medical care. Knowing the embassy’s location and contact info is a smart step for any traveler. But for people with chronic conditions, it’s a must.
2. Make a list of all medications
“Security agents get nervous when they see needles in your luggage, but a simple doctor’s note can help you on your way.”
Scott Burg, DO
Department of Rheumatologic and Immunologic Disease
If you take multiple medications, this is especially important. Make a list of all medications and dosages, and keep it in a safe place separate from where you keep those medications.
Include your doctor’s contact information on the list, too. Most of us are happy to provide such information. That way, if you lose a crucial medication and need a refill, a pharmacy can contact us to confirm it is necessary and valid.
3. Keep your medications with you
Keep your medications in a carry-on bag rather than a checked bag. You do not want to risk a flare-up because the airline lost your luggage — which happens far too often. I carry all my medications in a backpack when I travel.
4. Pay attention to special drug instructions
Are you taking an injectable drug such as Humira or Enbrel for rheumatoid arthritis? Those require refrigeration. Check with the drug company for specific instructions, but many will say you can keep the drugs at room temperature for about a day. For longer flights, you might need a special cooler.
Also, ask for a doctor’s note explaining your medical needs. Security agents get nervous when they see needles in your luggage, but a simple doctor’s note can help you on your way.
5. Plan for time zones
Jet lag isn’t your only concern. For drugs such as prednisone, it’s important not to miss a dose. If you’re flying somewhere with a big time difference, keep taking the medication as you would back home during the flight. When you arrive, modify your schedule slowly rather than shifting to the new time zone right away. The concern: If you miss a dose, you risk a bad reaction.
Humira, Enbrel and similar drugs are different. They’re long-acting. If you miss a dose because of a time shift, you can pick back up at the regular time the next day.
6. Ask about accommodations
If you’re road tripping in the United States, you’ll have good options for accessible hotel rooms. Special bathrooms are a real boon to travelers with arthritis.
Abroad, your options might be more limited. You can still plan ahead, though, by calling hotels or checking travel websites for reviews. Ask about bed boards to firm up soft mattresses and prevent back pain. Avoid bathrooms with footed tubs, which are beautiful but hard to manage for some people with arthritis. And if you have difficulty climbing stairs, make sure your hotel has an elevator.
7. Be ready for trouble
Don’t think negatively, but do be ready to deal with medical issues. Ask your doctor for a list of rheumatologists where you are traveling. For more serious concerns, consider purchasing travel health insurance in case of emergency, especially in a place very far from home.
8. Don’t just sit there
If you’re driving, get out and walk every one to two hours. If you’re on a plane, train or other mode of transportation, get out of your seat to walk the aisles and stretch.
Yes, this simple advice applies to everyone, since it helps prevent blood clots. But it’s especially important for preventing stiffness for people with arthritis. Staying crammed into a small space for a long time is a sure way to end up sore.
Arthritis treatment guide