The summer holidays are well under way, however if you are a holidaymaker who suffers with irritable bowel syndrome - IBS - a trip away can all too often become stressful, when planning your days around access to toilets.

At Irwin Mitchell, we act for a number of individuals who have contracted post-infective IBS, as a result of food poisoning from bacterial illness such as e.coli, salmonella, campylobacter or norovirus. These bacterial illnesses can be contracted in a variety of settings, both in the UK and abroad, from substandard food safety and hygiene.

One potential consequence of food poisoning is IBS, a longstanding illness consisting of frequent abdominal discomfort and an altered bowel habit, which can have a debilitating impact on day-to-day life. At any one time, IBS affects around 10 to 20% of the population.

Fortunately for holidaymakers living with IBS, The IBS Network, the national charity that has supported people living with the condition for over 30 years, has provided helpful tips when planning a holiday.

Prepare

Go through your IBS emergency kit supplies and see what items you need to include before your trip.  If you're holidaying in the UK, you can purchase a RADAR key from The IBS Network, which gives you independent access to locked public toilets around the UK. This means that you don’t have to wait for a member of staff to unlock the toilet. Special locks are installed in public disabled toilet doors to give people with health conditions and disabled people, priority access. Local authorities have adopted the scheme and RADAR toilets can now be found in shopping centres, pubs, stores, bus/train stations and many other locations nationwide. The lock will clearly display that it is part of the RADAR National Key Scheme.

Plan meals and snacks

Skipping meals to avoid going to the toilet can make your IBS worse. Taking a few gut-friendly snacks and water with you can help manage your symptoms better until you can eat a proper meal. If you are travelling to a country where you haven’t been before and want to try the local cuisine, do your research beforehand. If you are travelling to a country where you don’t speak the language, it’s very helpful to create a list of translations for trigger foods to avoid.

Don't forget your 'Can't Wait' Card and International Travel Card

If you worry about getting access to a toilet, The IBS Network’s 'Can’t Wait' Card is available to help you gain access to toilet facilities when you most need them and when a public toilet may not be available. Simply present your card in public places or stores and ask if you can use their toilet. Although the card is not guaranteed to give you access to toilets, they are widely accepted and acknowledged.

The International Travel Card, which comes with the 'Can’t Wait' Card, contains a number of translations of the ‘Can’t Wait’ message, which can be used to find a toilet in countries from Germany to Pakistan. Perfect for travelling or taking on your holiday.

Members of The IBS Network receive a 'Can’t Wait' Card as part of their membership. Or you can purchase the cards through their online shop.

Keep your mind busy

Take the stress out of travel by occupying your mind with reading, watching a film, or doing a puzzle. If you’re more relaxed, you’re less likely to experience IBS symptoms.

Keep a wellbeing diary

Write down what you’re eating and how you’re feeling. The IBS Network’s 12-week wellness diary is designed to help you better understand your symptoms and triggers.

Don't forget your go-to treatment

If you have a medication that helps calm your symptoms during a flare-up, be sure to pack it. That way, you’ll be prepared and hopefully better able to cope if you have a flare-up. Remember to keep your medication in its original packaging in case customs want to check them.

Drink plenty of water

It’s easy to forget to drink water when you’re travelling or seeing the sights, but it’s important, especially if you have IBS.

Learn to meditate

Meditation is a term used for a variety of techniques that involve focusing your attention on the here and now. It induces calm and relaxation, removing stress and anxiety, to help you better cope with the day-to-day stress of living with IBS. Find out more in The IBS Network’s self-care programme.

Relax

Once you’ve done all the packing and preparation, sit back, relax and enjoy your holiday.

Guidance

Through our work, we sadly see serious cases demonstrating the consequences of bacterial illnesses, such as post-infective IBS, acquired as a result of food poisoning from inadequate food safety and hygiene. 

The following guidance is being issued by Irwin Mitchell to those who believe they may have suffered food poisoning, whether abroad or in the UK:

  • Rest and stay hydrated, using oral rehydration salts, which are available from pharmacies.
  • Seek medical attention and ask your GP if a stool sample can be taken as soon as possible, to determine the pathogen suffered and to ensure that you receive the correct treatment.
  • Contact your local Environmental Health Department to make them aware of your illness, to help prevent other people from being affected.
  • Remain off work or school until you are advised that it is safe to return, as you may pass the illness on to others. If you work in a food business, with young children or the elderly, you will need to let your employer know, even if your symptoms have stopped.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people ill or injured abroad at our dedicated holiday accidents and illness section.