Traveling With… – Traveling With a Heart Condition

Traveling can be tiring. If you have a heart condition you should be cautious about your health. There is no reason to cancel trips or avoid them, but some precautions should be taken to reduce issues.

If you have recently had stress tests that resulted in normal ranges and negative angiogram, you likely will get medical clearance to travel. Be sure to remain on all medications that control arrhythmia and congestive heart failure. Traveling may also be embarked on if you feel well enough post bypass, stent placement, angioplasty or surgery. Wait a minimum of two weeks however, post the procedure prior to traveling any distance. In general, heart rhythm issues, heart failure, angina or high blood pressure are not a concern when deciding to travel. Be sure to check with your medical professional/s for their official assessment.

If you have had a heart attack that caused either shock or heart failure, do not travel less than 4- to 6-weeks’ time post-incident. Also, do not travel if you have consistent or recurrent chest pain, rhythmic disturbances or heart failure. Any heart condition combined with diabetes will have to be assessed by a cardiologist prior to travel.

Geography and Traveling

Traveling with a heart condition isn’t as easy as just picking a destination. It is very important to understand that local conditions can have an effect on the heart. Cold weather can strain the heart and may increase the risk of repeated issues. On the other hand, warm weather can lead to dehydration, which in turn can stress the heart muscle. Consider the unique issues to visiting developing countries without advanced medical care facilities, equipment, testing and services you may need.

Being Prepared When Planning a Trip

When planning a trip, be sure to schedule a pre-trip checkup with your physician. Discuss your travel plans including duration, location and activities. Let your doctor discuss your limitation and any added risks you should be aware of. Your physician may choose to do a clinical assessment if you are venturing to certain destinations. Ask him or her to always provide you with two prescriptions—one as a generic version of your current medications. This is so if you must refill the prescription while you are gone, you can do so easily.

A general rule of thumb is to take with you twice as much of your medicine you normally would need. Keep it in its original packaging to avoid issues with customs and to help doctors assess it in case of an overseas or out-of-the-country emergency. You also should store your medications in two different locations within your bags, i.e. on in a carry-on and one in a suitcase, to ensure they are always close by. Ask your physician for advice also on additional medicinal protection you may need for tropical illnesses when you are traveling.

Also, when traveling, be sure to have a written summary of your complete medical history, and include the most recent electrocardiogram. Be sure it is with you as you travel. Keep your physician’s name, contact phone number and email written down and on you in case of an emergency. Have an additional list of the medications you currently are taking and their dosages.

Finally, consider travel insurance. If you have a serious pre-existing condition to contend with. Medical costs can soar very quickly when you are traveling abroad. Anything that happens while you are out of the country can be covered by your additional insurance plan.

The Transport

The risk for people with stable heart conditions is considerably low when traveling on a plane. Inform security personnel about your pacemaker and always keep a copy of the brand of pacemaker you have, along with the type. This is in addition to your electrocardiograph. Your pacemaker is not affected by security screening machines. When boarding the plane, keep some of your medications on your person in case you need them urgently. Also, be sure to properly hydrate yourself to keep your blood circulating.

If you are traveling by car, there can be a lot of stress to the heart. Be sure to stop and take breaks every two-hours or so and do not drive after dark. Be aware of what medications cause drowsiness. When you arrive at your destination, the first few days are going to be the most difficult on your heart. Be careful to get proper rest and avoid straining yourself. Make note of altitude changes also and do not swim in water cooler than 20°C.

Emergency Procedure

If you do suffer an emergency, seek medical attention immediately. An emergency is an unusually fast (more than 100 bpm) or unusually slow heart rate (less than 50 bpm), an irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling of legs, or light-headedness. Any pain or pressure in the chest that radiates to your jaw, left arm or neck should be addressed, as this likely is a heart attack. Be sure to stay calm. Alert the people around you and seek medical help. When it arrives, give the attending your health information and ask for a physician who speaks English. Ask for a written record of all treatments so you can give them to your personal doctor at home for a follow-up. If possible. Request copies of all radiographs and testing also.