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Travelling with a medical condition

Travelling with a medical condition requires extra planning. If you have a medical condition there are some additional factors to be aware of that the average traveller might not have to consider.

Here are some things you should keep in mind. As someone with epilepsy these are some of the things I have come across over the years. I can’t say this is an exhaustive list of tips, but it covers some of the most important points. 

Keep medication in your carry on luggage

If you only take away one piece of information from this post, this is the one.

Keep any medication with you in your carry on bag. Don’t check it in. If your checked bags go astray and all your crucial medication goes with it, then it could be extremely difficult to get replacements in time. 

This point might seem obvious to some, but it does seem to be something that some travellers aren’t careful enough about. I take medication every single morning and evening. Skipping one dose isn’t a disaster but any more than that is a serious and dangerous problem.

Also be aware of airline restrictions. If your condition requires needles for injections or liquids over the normal flight allowance, make sure you have appropriate documents from your healthcare provider and check in advance what information the airline needs to make sure you can take it with you when you get to the airport.

Woman taking pills out of foil packet.

Keep medication in labelled packages

Make sure that your medication is in original packaging, with some form of document confirming that you get it via a doctor or pharmacist.

Don’t leave any doubt about what the medication is in case it comes up at customs. You don’t want to be questioned by the sometimes scary border staff carrying an unlabelled pack of pills.

Make sure your medication is legal

For most standard medications this won’t be an issue, but there are some countries where common medications are illegal. 

This is especially true of painkillers. For example, in the UK you can get some forms of co-codamol (a combination of paracetamol and codeine) from a pharmacist without needing to see a doctor.

In some countries in the Middle East, codeine is a controlled substance and could get you in to trouble. Be extremely wary of taking anything containing CBD or anything relating to cannabis out of your home country. It’s not worth the risk. 

If in doubt, check the status of your medication before you travel.

Know the generic name of your medication

When you get your medication it will often be branded and sold under the name assigned by the manufacturer. In a different country it may be called another name.

Make sure you know the generic name of the medication. For example, I take lamotrigine, but the brand name is Lamictal. In another country the brand name might be different.

Although this shouldn’t be a significant problem when abroad as the name can be checked, it is generally worth knowing the generic name of your medication. This is even true of standard painkillers.

If an American tried to get hold of Tylenol in the UK they might be met with blank looks, especially as the generic name in the US is acetaminophen but is commonly called paracetamol outside of the US. 

Woman taking pills out of a pill organiser

Time changes

Some medications have a bit of leeway on what time you take them. Other medications need to be taken at precise intervals.

If your medical condition requires precise timing, do some planning to make sure you are taking medication at the right times. You might need to set reminders on your phone to take medication mid-flight or account for the time difference when you arrive. 

Language barriers

If you are going to a country where you don’t speak the language it is a good idea to have a saved or printed description of your condition and the name and dosage of any medication you take both in English and the language of the destination country.

If you are unwell it is far easier to hand a doctor a piece of paper with the relevant information rather than trying to find a way of translating the information in an emergency. The consequences of mistranslating dosage could be serious, so it’s important to get it right.

Insurance

Another important point to end on.

Standard insurance packages often don’t cover pre-existing medical conditions. I always get insurance from a specialist provider and disclose my condition. It makes insurance a bit more expensive but it is worth it.

If I have a seizure abroad and haven’t disclosed my epilepsy to the insurer then any health care I need may not be covered. Insurance that you get free with a bank account or credit card may not be sufficient. If you have a medical condition speak to your insurer about your case before you go. 

A bit of research and planning goes a long way, and it’s worth doing the advance checks to make sure your medical condition has no effect on your trip.

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