July 26, 2017

Planning to Travel? Don’t Let Heart Disease Stop You

5 tips to prepare for your trip

View of a beach from a plane

Are you planning a trip or vacation? If you have heart disease, it’s especially important to do some advance planning.

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“By preparing well, you can focus on enjoying yourself,” says Benico Barzilai, MD, Head of Clinical Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic.

Also, he says it’s important not to ignore symptoms, whether at home or on the road. “Be smart. Be sure to seek emergency room treatment should you have any chest pain, signs of a heart attack, or other symptoms of heart disease.”

Here are 5 important tips to get you ready for your trip:

1. Talk with your doctor

Depending on your condition, it may make sense to visit your doctor before your trip. Definitely, do so if you are having any new symptoms or if you’ve had a recent procedure or hospitalization to be sure that traveling is safe for you.

Some information you may need before leaving includes:

  • Doctor contact. Ask your cardiologist for a doctor to contact (or research the closest medical center in your travel location) in case of problems.
  • Copy of your electrocardiogram. If you have an irregular heartbeat, ask your doctor for a copy of your electrocardiogram (ECG). It helps if you have access to an electronic medical record, such as MyChart.
  • Immunization records. Be sure to have any immunizations required for the country you’re visiting. Also, make sure you’re up to date on your immunization and antimalarial recommendations. You may want to visit a travel clinic before you go.

Check your insurance coverage and make sure it will cover you where you are traveling. Consider purchasing medical evacuation insurance if your health insurance doesn’t cover medical evacuation.

2. Plan for your medications

Make sure you will have enough medication to get you through the entire trip (if not, refill your prescription). You want to bring enough medication to cover you for a few extra days in case you are delayed for any reason.

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Other tips for your medication include:

  • Make it easily accessible. Put your medication in a pocket or place you can easily reach in your bag while you are en route. If you are flying, bring all medication on your carry-on luggage.
  • Clearly label it. You want to make sure your medication is clearly labeled so there’s no confusion about what you should take, and when.
  • Keep water with you. Always have a water bottle in case you need to take your medication while on the road.
  • Bring snacks. This is helpful for anyone traveling, but especially if you need to take any medications with food.

3. What to remember if you fly

When traveling by plane, use a suitcase and carry-on that has wheels, or get help with your luggage from a porter or fellow travel mate. Also, request an aisle seat so you can easily get up and walk around.

If you travel a long distance, there’s an increased risk of blood clots (venous thrombosis). Slower blood circulation when you are sitting for many hours and lower oxygen levels in the plane cabin are what drive up the risk.

Here are tips to help with this:

  • Move around. During the flight, get up from your seat at least once every two hours and walk up and down the aisles.
  • Choose the right footwear. Wear comfortable shoes and socks, and try to elevate your feet above your chest level whenever you can.
  • Consider compression stockings. You’ll need them when traveling on a plane for more than eight hours or 3,100 miles.
  • Stay hydrated. Focus on drinking water and avoid alcoholic beverages, which can dehydrate you.

Do you have a pacemaker or implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD)? If so, try to request special security clearance with a hand search at the airport.

If a handheld device is used to clear a person through security checkpoints, ask the examiner to hold the handheld device over the ICD for no more than a few seconds.

Traveling abroad? Bring all contact numbers and web site addresses for pacemaker and ICD manufacturers.

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While the risk of heart attack or other heart problems is small, the Federal Aviation Administration requires passenger-carrying aircraft to keep an automated external defibrillator.

4. Consider diet and exercise

If you’ll be walking a lot on your getaway, start a walking routine in the weeks before your trip. The day of your trip, make sure you get plenty of sleep. Also, wear the most comfortable travel shoes you can find.

If you are on a special diet at home, follow your diet (as much as possible) on your trip. If you have heart failure, eating too much salt can bring on symptoms. To avoid salty snacks on the plane and during the trip, bring low-salt snacks with you.

5. Get help if you need it

Finally, if you are on vacation and have any heart symptoms, don’t be a hero. “Don’t be afraid to get checked for fear of spoiling your family vacation,” says Dr. Barzilai.

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