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Multiple Sclerosis: Take Care When You Travel

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) travel all over the world — on business and on vacation. They sightsee, trek, snorkel, and go white-water rafting, and you can too. The following suggestions can help you go where you want to go and do what you want to do when you get there. The world is your oyster.

MS and travel: Check in for a check up

Have a frank talk with your neurologist about any concerns you have regarding your trip. Although very little of what happens with MS is a medical emergency, you’ll feel more relaxed if you’ve talked about what to do and who to call if you have a relapse far from home.

Keep in mind that heat and overexertion can cause your symptoms to act up temporarily, so be prepared to take time to cool down and rest up before jumping to the conclusion that you’re having a true relapse. Infections can also kick your symptoms into high gear, so if you’re prone to urinary tract infections, ask your doctor about taking an antibiotic with you just in case.

You’ll also feel reassured by having the name and phone number of a local medical facility in your destination city or cities. Join the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers, a nonprofit organization that lists English-speaking doctors all over the world.

MS and travel: Save energy for the fun stuff

In addition to budgeting your money for a trip, make sure you budget your energy. Figure out how much you can comfortably do each day, leaving time for rest breaks along the way. Don’t plan such a jam-packed trip that you get exhausted just thinking about it.

And most importantly, don’t stand when you can sit, or walk when you can ride. Although walking is important, your vacation is probably not the time to make a statement about how far you can walk before run out of gas. By making the best use of mobility aids, you can conserve the energy you need to have fun.

MS and travel: Keep your cool

Getting overheated is one of the quickest ways to sap your energy and cause your symptoms to act up. So try to schedule your trip for the coolest, least humid seasons, and plan your activities during the early and later parts of the day.

Wear layers of lightweight, light-colored clothing and a head covering, and invest in a commercial cooling vest or bandana that you can wear when it’s really hot. Make the most of air conditioning and sip cold water throughout the day.

MS and travel: Safely pack your prescriptions

Be sure to pack all of your medications in your carry-on bag, along with a complete list of all your prescription and non-prescription drugs. If you take an injectable medication, carry the vials and syringes in their original package, complete with the prescription label so that the security guards won’t confiscate it. A letter from your doctor may help, but it isn’t good enough — you really do need the prescription label.

If any of your medications need to be refrigerated, make sure you have adequate packaging to protect them until you arrive at your destination (and check ahead to make sure you’ll have access to a refrigerator when you get there). Don’t forget to bring along a safe used-needles container.

MS and travel: Get vaccinated

Traveling outside of the United States may involve a vaccination or two. Vaccinations for the flu, hepatitis B, tetanus, measles, and rubella are safe unless you’re currently having a major relapse (in which case you should wait four to six weeks after the onset of the relapse to have the vaccination) or you’re taking a medication that suppresses your immune system, such as Novantrone (mitoxantrone), Imuran (azathioprine), methotrexate, or Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide).

The yellow fever vaccine may increase a person’s risk of having a relapse. The oral medication Gilenya may make vaccinations less effective, so be sure to talk to your doctor if you take Gilenya and need to be vaccinated.

In general, check with your doctor before taking any live, attenuated vaccine, such as varicella or the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella, because you’re at greater risk of developing the disease when your immune system is suppressed.

The consensus among MS experts is that you shouldn’t be denied access to health-preserving and potentially life-saving vaccines because of your MS. Follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for each vaccine.

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