Explorers Connect

How To....Medically Prepare Yourself For an Expedition

How-toJames Hipkiss

More than ever before people have the ability of reaching far flung destinations once the preserve of famous pioneers. With the accessibility of modern transport, travellers can themselves become explorers and visit remote regions to retrace steps from a bygone era.

They will need to also deal with some of the risks and hardships encountered by the early adventurers such as medical problems in the field, as these days people can visit many places isolated from decent medical care. Unless you have the luxury of your own personal doctor accompanying you then it is wise to gain some basic medical knowledge. There is a saying in the medical profession that common things are common. This may state the obvious but the meaning is essentially that if someone develops a medical illness, the likelihood is that this illness will be familiar and easily treatable rather than something rare and serious.

Therefore, knowledge of some essentials can help a traveller either solve the problem or allow them to realise when more specialised medical help is needed. I often see the basics performed poorly and this can cause a simple problem to escalate into something more serious. This series of articles will help educate and better prepare travellers on just some of these basics which may prove useful, whether you are in a remote corner of the globe, walking in the UK hills, or simply having a break in a civilised city. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure Although the above quote may have been spoken by Benjamin Franklin, similar themes have been recorded all the way back to a 1st century Roman poet. The meaning is particularly true when dealing with medical care for travellers.

Some foresight and preparation before one goes away can save much trouble and hassle later. Personal medical conditions and fitness. A good place to start is your own state of health. There may be trips that are particularly dangerous to your health due to your medical condition. If you have concerns about a particular condition you should seek medical advice to ascertain how your trip may affect your condition. For example, those that have a heart murmur may have no problems exercising at sea level. However, there are some specific heart murmurs, which upon going to altitude can significantly increase the risk of developing a severe form of altitude sickness such as High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (fluid in the lungs). It is also important to look at how well your condition is controlled.

If your condition is not well controlled then perhaps it will be prudent to wait before you embark on your trip. For example, someone with depression not properly controlled may want to embark on an adventure of a lifetime, with the belief that this life changing experience will improve mood and wellbeing. All well and good but the reality is that travel can take one outside their comfort zone to some unusual destinations and challenges, which is part of the beauty of travelling. If the depression is stable in the first place, then a special trip can certainly improve the mood and wellbeing of anyone, giving a new positive perspective on life. However, if it is not controlled this can have an adverse affect, further lowering the mood and possibly having such a negative impact that they take their own life.

If you are travelling on an organised trip through a company, you may be able to tap into specialised medical advice as a few companies have an appropriate doctor overseeing the medical side. It will be important to be honest and thorough when completing medical forms, otherwise this could not only negate your travel insurance should you need medical assistance abroad, but also the company doctor wont be able to advise on an omitted medical condition. Just the few examples above I have heard happen in real life situations. By knowing about your medical conditions, this will provide a good first step on determining which destinations are right or as the case may be are not appropriate to you for safety reasons. It is good practice to work on your fitness before a trip.

Although inspiring, travel can also be draining both physically and mentally with long waits at airports, running around to catch the local mutatas, or climbing the highest mountain in Africa. Those that are undertaking particular demanding challenges such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro tend to underestimate the physicality involved rather than overestimate. The fitter you are the more you are likely to achieve and get out of it, hence greater the reward. Train hard, travel easy. Dental Health One area often neglected are teeth.Teeth are pivotal as part of your pre-trip medical work up. Problems with teeth can be excruciating painful and difficult to solve, as more often than not they cant be quickly fixed by taking medicines but require some sort of procedure to correct. Some environments such as cold or altitude can further intensify problems. Breathing cold air can increase sensitivity of the teeth and at altitude the decrease in atmospheric pressure causes gas to expand, so any underlying cavities will result in increased pain due to the pressure of expanding gas trapped in these cavities.

Anyone developing these problems will not only be reluctant to eat and drink which will weaken the body and morale, but considerable pain or developing infection can result in an abandoned trip. It is recommended to have your teeth checked approximately 3 months before any expedition. This will normally allow enough time for dental work to be carried out should any significant problem be highlighted before your trip.