Digestive Health

Avoid holiday travel IBS woes and stay comfy on the go

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Don’t let irritable bowel syndrome stop your holiday travel plans in their tracks. Learn how to avoid and manage IBS symptoms so you can get to where you need to be and still be in the holiday spirit. 


By Adam B. Gorelick, MD, Gastroenterology, Nuvance Health


You have your luggage packed and are excited to head out the door and spend time with your family and friends this holiday season. You catch a ride share to the airport but before you can even sit back and relax, your stomach begins making some funny noises. You hope the driver doesn’t hear your gut rumbling as the car stops at the departure drop-off. Before you can even check your bags and go through security, you feel the sudden urge to use the bathroom. As you glance toward the restrooms, you see there is a large line of people who also need to go. It crosses your mind that you may even miss your flight if you can’t find a bathroom fast. If you have ever suffered from digestive health issues while traveling, then this may seem like a familiar scenario.


Experiencing heartburn, an upset stomach or diarrhea while traveling is quite common. Traveling can be stressful, especially if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. Leave your IBS out in the cold this holiday season so you can travel with confidence.


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Common causes of IBS while traveling


Irritable bowel syndrome is a common disorder that affects the digestive system that causes muscles in the intestine to unpredictably spasm. Symptoms of IBS include cramps, bloating, gas and either diarrhea or constipation. Irritable bowel syndrome is not curable, but it is manageable with lifestyle changes and some medications. Here are a few reasons why you might have IBS symptoms during your holiday travels:

  • Travel anxiety and stress
  • Off your normal routine
  • Overeating
  • Not hydrating enough


Being anxious or stressed while traveling during the holidays can lead to IBS symptoms that cause you to experience gastrointestinal discomfort. Your stomach is often referred to as your second brain because it contains the enteric nervous system, a mesh-like system of neurons that coordinates digestive functions. If you are anxious about traveling, then your stomach may have its own way of letting you know. Your nervous system plays a big role in IBS. Nerves in your digestive system can cause discomfort when signals between the brain and the intestines do not communicate properly.


Learn more about irritable bowel syndrome


Mixed signals can cause your body to overreact to changes that typically occur in the digestive process. The mix up can result in pain, diarrhea or constipation. Traveling can also put you off of your normal routine and cause you to behave differently, which could lead to IBS. If you overeat or do not drink enough liquid and stay hydrated, this can also contribute to gastrointestinal issues while traveling. If you experience frequent digestive health issues, contact your doctor to get the best possible healthcare.


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Tips for avoiding IBS during travel


Experiencing IBS symptoms such as having an upset stomach or diarrhea during travel can be an unpleasant situation to say the least. Because travel involves periods of both movement and then not moving, it can become difficult to know when or where a bathroom will be in case you need to find relief. However, there are certain steps you can take to alleviate uncomfortable digestive symptoms when traveling.


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Pack a digestive health rescue kit that includes items such as diarrhea relief medication, antacids or indigestion relief and pain relief medications. If traveling on a plane, take the rescue kit with you in your carryon bag to have easy access to it. Include all your prescription medications that you regularly take and a good probiotic. If you prefer to use baby wipes, then make sure to pack them. Baby wipes are conveniently available in travel sizes.


Limit or do not drink alcohol during your travel time. Alcohol relaxes the stomach and the muscle that allows food to travel down your throat and into your stomach for digestion. Drinking alcohol reduces the pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter, which increases the chance of heartburn caused by stomach acid that splashes back up into the esophagus.


Related content: Heartburn trouble? Here are the worst and best foods for acid reflux


Avoid eating large meals or foods that trigger symptoms. It’s best to eat very little or avoid overeating before and during travel to reduce the risk of digestive health issues while on the go. Eating food stimulates the stomach to create stomach acid. Eating too much can cause indigestion, heartburn, and diarrhea. Eat something light and choose foods that will not cause gas or discomfort. If you know a certain food triggers your symptoms avoid it.


Related content: Managing holiday meal portions is all the reason to celebrate


Hydrate by drinking plenty of water. According to the National Institutes of Health, men should drink 3,000 ml (about 101.44 oz) or water daily while women should drink 2,200 ml (about 74.39 oz) of water each day. Water is critical for proper digestive health because it allows the body to absorb vital nutrients. Water also makes your stool softer and easier to pass which decreases the risk of constipation. Make sure to stay hydrated throughout your holiday travels.


Related content: Can staying hydrated by drinking water really help you live longer?

The bottom line: Life can get pretty hectic, especially when traveling during the holidays. Although sometimes it can feel unavoidable, try to relax and don’t let stress get in the way of your plans. Stress and anxiety paired with food can create IBS symptoms.


Avoid eating a large meal before you travel and certain foods that trigger IBS for you. Instead, eat something light such as dry toast or a banana. Pack a digestive health rescue kit, including diarrhea relief medication, antacids or indigestion relief medications as well as a probiotic. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water to avoid constipation. Don’t let IBS issues get in the way of your holiday travel plans. Understand what triggers your IBS symptoms so you can have a safe trip and a happy holiday.