Female Travel Health Advice

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Written by: Dr Seb Kalwij

Do anti-malarials affect the pill? What should you do if you get Thrush or Cystitis whilst travelling? Can you buy tampons and sanitary towels all over the world? When should you take the pill when crossing time-zones? These are all questions asked before travelling. Read this article to find out some of the answers.

Contraception

Whatever your chosen method of contraception ALWAYS use a condom!

  • The Pill – Probably the preferred method of contraception amongst the younger age groups in the UK. Under normal circumstances it offers a very high level of protection but its absorption may be decreased by profuse diarrhoea or vomiting within 3 hours of taking the pill. Certain antibiotics may also decrease its activity and theoretically doxycycline (a commonly used antimalarial) may come into this category so alternative forms of contraception should be used for the first couple of weeks of such an antimalarial course. When crossing time zones, try to continue taking your pill every 24 hours, whatever the time may be. In order to change your daily time always take your pill before it is due i.e. less than every 24 hours.
  • Condoms – When used correctly offer very high levels of protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and will come in handy should your oral contraceptive pill be made ineffective due to diarrhoea or vomiting.
  • IUD (IntraUterine Device) – Very effective method of contraception but provides no cover against STD’s.
  • Injectable Contraceptives – Again effective but provide no STD cover. Have the advantage of reducing menstruation.
  • Post Coital Contraceptives (morning after pill) – Effective for up to 72 hours following unprotected sex, this should be used in emergencies only. It will only be available through your GP prior to travel and even then since you have no need of it right now, it may be difficult to convince him that it is necessary.

Whatever your choice of contraceptive, you should still carry some condoms, and if you wish to change your method of contraception before you go this should be done in plenty of time to allow several cycles to pass to check for side effects or difficulties.

Further advice on all contraceptive matters should be sought from your GP or local family planning clinic.

Tampons and pills

Menstruation

Tampons may be very difficult or virtually impossible to find in many places, and where available they may be of an inferior standard to what you use at home. Therefore, it is advisable to take sufficient to cover you for your entire trip if at all possible. In very rural areas disposal of used sanitary towels can also pose a few problems, since they cannot be flushed into a safe sewer system, nor will the dustman collect them so local advice or do the best you can to dispose of them in a responsible manner. For short trips, several packets of pills can be run in together to prevent menstruation, but this is not a good idea for longer travels.

Cystitis

This is characterised by an extreme desire to urinate frequently, but very little urine is produced often accompanied by a severe burning sensation and is caused by an infection of the urinary tract, bladder and in severe cases the kidneys can become involved. It is often made worse by dehydration, so another good reason to keep up your fluid intake. It can by managed by drinking lots of water (about a pint per hour), but if the symptoms do not resolve within about 24 hours or there is blood or fever present, medical attention and antibiotic treatment must be sought. If you are prone to cystitis, then it may be worth taking a course with you – see your GP prior to travel.

Thrush

Is very common is hot humid environments, and your chances of getting thrush may be increased if you are taking doxycycline as your antimalarial. It is therefore a good idea to take a treatment with you if spending any time in a tropical area. There are a variety of treatments available through your local pharmacy including a single oral tablet. If using this, it is imperative that you are not pregnant and that you are well hydrated before taking it (an antifungal cream used at the same time will also help to reduce symptoms immediately).

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