Diverticular Disease - Considerations Whilst on Holiday

Travel Tips from Dr Ruth Handford

Diverticular disease is an incredibly common condition which affects a vast number of people – and usually they know nothing about it! Once you have had an episode of diverticulitis, it is worth thinking about trying to prevent it happening whilst on holiday, and taking steps to take the right medicines with you, just in case.

What is Diverticular Disease?

Diverticular disease, or diverticulosis, is a painless bowel condition where small bulges develop in the wall of the bowel, often on the left side. This is a common consequence of longstanding constipation, but can run in families or develop with age. 

Diverticulitis is the infection or inflammation of these bulges – and it is this acute problem that causes symptoms. It is possible to have diverticulosis all your life and never even know about it. However, if diverticulitis occurs, it can make you very unwell.

Diverticulitis can be caused by the bulges in the bowel getting blocked or infected, or sometimes bursting. Symptoms of this can be diarrhoea, bleeding from the bottom, pain, temperature, sweating, nausea, shivering and bloating.

If you have been diagnosed with diverticular disease, you may well have found out by chance on a scan or bowel test for other reasons.

Diverticulitis can present with symptoms of pain and infection, and can often be managed with antibiotics. Sometimes, an abscess can form in the gut, and hospital admission is needed. Rarely, the part of the bowel affected needs to be surgically removed.

‘I’ve Got Diverticular Disease – How do I Prevent Diverticulitis’?

There is no sure fire way to prevent diverticulitis. But there are steps that you can take to make it less likely. Making sure your bowels are open regularly and easily is important, so avoid getting constipated by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, and drinking lots of water. If you still struggle to open your bowels, try a gentle laxative from the chemist.

A high fibre diet can help your bowel to function more efficiently, and make diverticulitis less likely. High fibre foods include wholegrain and wholewheat products, fruits, vegetables, potato (the skin!), pulses, beans, nuts and seeds. There is lots of useful dietary advice about fibre on the nhs.uk website.

Things to Think About When Planning a Trip

If you have never had an episode of diverticulitis, then just planning ahead to try to prevent one is sufficient. Make sure you have a varied diet high in fibre whilst you are away, combined with plenty of water. Take some gentle laxatives with you in case you get constipated whilst on holiday. If you develop abdominal pains, or symptoms of bleeding or infection, make sure to seek a medical opinion. Having a copy of any bowel investigations you may have had, as well as a list of your medications, is very sensible to help any doctors you may need whilst away.

If, however, you have had diverticulitis in the past, think about how it presented itself. Often people feel unwell before they get any abdominal pain. Look out for symptoms of infection – like a temperature, nausea, shivering, night sweats and feeling dizzy. Left sided abdominal pain is common in diverticulitis, but pain anywhere in your abdomen should prompt you to see a doctor. This is even more important if you have pain as well as symptoms of infection or a change in your bowel habit.

Use paracetamol for pain and temperature – this will not constipate you or upset your stomach. Try to avoid medications containing codeine or ibuprofen unless you know they suit you and work well for you.

If you have had a flare up of diverticulitis in the past and feel confident you would recognise the symptoms, speak to your GP about taking some antibiotics with you on holiday. Often, early treatment can nip a flare up in the bud and minimise symptoms and pain. However, if you do this and your symptoms don’t settle rapidly, you will need to see a doctor whilst away.

Always buy travel insurance before you travel and ensure that it provides cover for your diverticular disease, this will protect you from the risk of incurring large medical bills if you do need to seek emergency medical treatment whilst you are away.

Always consult your own doctor before travelling

These travel tips are intended to provide general information to those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). They do not replace a visit to your doctor . If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.

About Dr Ruth Handford

Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years' experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.

Important Information: These travel tips are intended to provide general information to those with eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions. They do not replace a visit to your doctor . If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.

Travel Insurance for Diverticular Disease

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend that you have travel insurance in place every time you travel abroad. Make sure that your insurers are aware that you have Diverticular Disease and ensure that your travel insurance provides cover for this; as well any other medical conditions you may have.