8 Tips for Traveling with Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Rheumatoid arthritis can make your life difficult and complicated even when you're just staying at home.  It can make things that much harder when you're traveling, whether it's by plane, train or automobile. Here are some ways to help make a journey less stressful.

Adjust your medication schedule

If traveling by plane, talk to your doctor about how to adjust medication schedules if you're crossing several time zones, and make sure you get the proper vaccinations. Be aware that you should not get certain vaccinations - e.g., yellow fever and polio - when you're on an immunosuppressant.

Have an emergency travel kit

Not only should you plan to take more medication than you need in case of travel delays, consider asking your doctor for a sort of "emergency travel kit" of medications — one that includes antibiotics and a prednisone dose pack in case of infection or an unexpected flare.

Pack medication in a carry-on bag

That way, if your suitcase gets diverted or lost, your medication will be safe in your hands. Pack your meds and supplies in a separate bag (e.g. Ziploc bag) to make it easier for security officers to inspect them. Medication and related supplies are usually X-rayed, but the Transportation Security Administration allows you to request a visual inspection of these items if arranged with the security officer beforehand.

Carry supporting documents

Keep medications in the original container and have the label match the name on your boarding pass. Ask your doctor for a letter explaining the prescriptions. If you require syringes, the letter should explain these are necessary for your medication. Carry letters (on letterhead) with the name, location and contact information of both your doctor and your pharmacist.

Store medication in the proper place

Always keep all your medication in a cool, dry and dark place (i.e., not in the trunk of your car). If you're traveling with biologics, such as Enbrel or Humira that need to be refrigerated within a certain range of temperature, place the medication in a small travel cooler for shorter trips. For longer trips, wrap it in bubblewrap and place it in the travel cooler with ice and a thermometer.

Manage infectious risk

If you're concerned about infection risk in the confined space of an airplane, speak to your doctor about what precautions you can take. These may include carrying hand sanitizer and a mask. If your seatmate looks at you funny, explain that you're on a medication that lowers your immune system and that you're wearing the mask to protect yourself.

If you are driving a car

There are a number of things you can do to be more comfortable. Adjust the seat to fit your body, e.g., if your hips hurt, adjust the back and the seat so you don't sit in a 90 degree angle. If sitting for long stretches of time hurts your back, try an Obus Forme back cushion for better support, or place a pillow or cushion on the seat to ease the pressure on your hips.

If you are a passenger

Cut a long trip into smaller sections and consider taking the scenic route, so you can make frequent stops for refreshments, bathroom breaks, stretching your legs, and pulling over to admire the landscape. When traveling as a passenger, bring pillows and cushions to arrange yourself comfortably. Backpacks can double as a support for your legs.