Medical conditions affecting the gallbladder are very common. Worldwide, it is estimated that anywhere between one in five and one in 10 people have gallstones - a build-up of solid matter usually made up of either cholesterol or bilirubin, a by-product of red blood cells.
On their own, gallstones can be completely benign, and most people aren’t aware they even have them. However, once they become too large, they can start to cause acute pain. Even worse, if they get stuck in the bile ducts leading to the liver, they can cause cholecystitis, or inflammation of the gallbladder, which in turn can lead to persistent pain, jaundice and fever. If left untreated, cholecystitis can also lead to death, with 10,000 fatalities a year recorded in the US alone.
Being diagnosed with gallstones and/or cholecystitis can raise many questions, including whether or not it is safe to travel with the condition. This is especially relevant to people who have to undergo surgery to have the stones removed, one of the most common ways to treat gallstones. Many patients wonder how safe it is to travel, and to fly, both before surgery and immediately following, during the recovery phase.
For general travellers, there is not too much advice out there on travelling with a gallbladder condition. For gallstones that aren’t causing any symptoms, there are no real restrictions on your movements or the activities you take part in.
Some measure of guidance can be found in the advice offered to pilots and aviation staff. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) places no restrictions on its members flying if gallstones are found but there are no accompanying symptoms. Where it does advise caution is if patients are suffering pain and/or have a diagnosis for cholecystitis, in which case they recommend no participation in “safety sensitive” activities. For ordinary fliers, this should be read as meaning air travel could exacerbate symptoms. The best path is to take professional advice from your physician.
Gallbladder disease and travel insurance
If you have had a diagnosis for any gallbladder condition, including symptomless gallstones, you must declare it when buying travel insurance. In general terms, insurers want to know of any pre-existing medical conditions before they offer you a policy. This is because, if you already have a condition, your insurer will consider the risk of you making a medical claim against your policy higher, and will therefore seek to charge you a higher premium.
The amount of the premium you have to pay will depend on the nature of your circumstances. You will probably be quizzed about your symptoms. If your gallstones are symptomless and have been for six to 12 months or more, you will likely see very little increase in what you have to pay for insurance. If you have a diagnosis for cholecystitis, on the other hand, or if you are awaiting or have had surgery, you could face a higher charge.
The other key factor in how much you are charged is the provider you turn to. A mainstream provider is likely to impose a high surcharge, if they choose to offer you cover at all. But a provider who specialises in cover for medical conditions, including gallbladder condition insurance, will offer you much better rates, based on a thorough evaluation of your personal circumstances.