If you have heart disease, you may be a little nervous about taking a vacation or long weekend trips far from your usual doctors (or even in a foreign country.) Remember, though, that preparation is the key for you to have an enjoyable trip – and you know how good stress reduction is for your heart! Follow these simple steps -- relax and enjoy your trip.
Talk with Your Doctor
This first one is easy. You’ll want to make an appointment with your cardiologist, for several reasons:
- If you’re having any new symptoms, your doctor can check them out before your travel.
- If you’ve had a procedure or hospitalization recently, ask your doctor when it’s safe for you to travel.
- Your cardiologist can find out (or may even already know) a doctor to contact and the closest medical center in your vacation destination in case you have any problems.
- Ask your doctor for a copy of your electrocardiogram (ECG) if you have an irregular heartbeat. Being able to provide this information to a doctor unfamiliar with your case will make it much quicker and easier for you to get the appropriate medical treatment.
- Make sure you’re up-to-date on whatever immunizations are required for the country you’re visiting, and follow any antimalarial recommendations if necessary. Ask your doctor if there are any other medical steps you should take before you leave
Check your insurance coverage before you go and make sure it will cover you where you’re traveling. Also, give some thought to buying medical evacuation insurance if your health insurance doesn’t cover it.
- Check your medication supply and make sure you’ll have enough to get you through the whole trip, and if you don’t, refill your prescription. Bring enough medication to cover you for a few extra days in case you’re delayed for any reason. Some countries require you to bring all medications in their original bottles, as opposed to weekly pill-organizers – check the specific country’s regulations before you leave.
- If you’re flying, bring all medications in your carry-on luggage, and make sure they’re clearly labeled. And even if you’re not flying, make sure they’re easily accessible while you’re en route.
- Make sure to keep a water bottle handy at all times in case you need to take your medication during travel time, and bring a healthy snack if you need to take any of your pills with food.
General Tips for Flying
- Use a suitcase and carry-on with wheels or get help with your luggage from a porter or travel mate.
- On a plane, ask for an aisle seat so you can easily get up and walk around. In a car, stop and stretch your legs frequently. On long-distance trips, there’s an increased risk of blood clots due to slower blood circulation. This can be really dangerous.
- Drink lots of water to stay hydrated, and avoid the alcohol, as it causes dehydration.
Flying with a Heart Device
- If you have a pacemaker or implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD), ask for special security clearance with a hand search at the airport. The device company should also provide you with a card with instructions for airport security personnel.
- If a handheld device (“wand”) is used to clear you through security checkpoints, ask the examiner to hold it over the ICD for a few seconds only.
- If you’re traveling overseas, bring all contact numbers and web addresses for the pacemaker and/or ICD manufacturers.
Diet & Exercise
Much as we’d all like to believe otherwise, vacation is not a “free pass” to eat whatever you want and throw your exercise plan out the window: this is especially true for heart patients. Here are just a few items to remember:
- Make sure you’re well-rested before you travel, and get plenty of sleep while you’re away.
- Practice ahead of time for any special activities you’ll be doing during your getaway. If you’ll be taking a lot of walking tours, for examples, be sure to start a walking program before you leave – and wear the most comfortable travel shoes you can find.
- On a special diet at home? That means you’re on a special diet during your vacation too. Follow your diet as much as possible on your trip. If you’re vacationing in an area that speaks a different language, learn a few key phrases like “Please make mine with no oil” and “No salt for me, please”.
- Speaking of salt, consuming too much of it can bring on symptoms, especially for heart failure patients. When you’re traveling, however, it can seem like salt is everywhere – starting with those salty snacks on the plane. Bring your own low-salt snacks instead.
Get Help If You Need It
If you happen to have any heart symptoms while you’re on vacation, don’t be a hero. If you don’t get checked out because you’re afraid of “spoiling your family’s vacation,” the result could be a lot worse than losing half a day to an emergency room visit.
With these preparations in place, you should be in the best possible position to enjoy your trip. Just don’t forget to take a few extra pictures to show your cardiologist when you get back!