Travel and Heart Disease

passenger at airport running with suitcase

Travel precautions help people with heart disease

Traveling to a faraway place doesn’t need to be off limits because you have heart disease or are a caretaker of someone who has had a cardiac event like heart attack or stroke. A few simple precautions can help make your trip smooth.

Here are some travel tips:

  • Bring your prescription and over-the-counter medicines with you and take enough to last your entire trip, plus extra in case of travel delays. Pack medications in a carry-on bag in case your luggage is lost or delayed.
    • Keep medicines in their original, labeled containers. Ensure that they are clearly labeled with your full name, health care professional’s name, generic and brand name and exact dosage.
    • Bring copies of all written prescriptions. Leave a copy of your prescriptions at home with a friend or relative in case you lose your copy or need an emergency refill. Download this medication chart (PDF) to keep track of your medicines.
  • Ask your health care professional for a note if you use controlled substances, or injectable medicines, such as EpiPens and insulin. Tell your health care professional about your travel. Let your cardiologist or internist know where you’ll be. Your health care professional might know medical professionals or reputable heart institutes in the area you’re visiting if help is needed.
  • Do a little research. Be aware of any medical facilities at your destination and know what your health insurance covers. For instance, some insurance policies only pay part of the cost of an emergency flight home from abroad. That can help you make quick decisions if a problem arises.
    • Comprehensive travel insurance usually includes medical evacuation travel insurance. Coverage varies by plan, destination and duration of trip, so shop around. But the average cost is about $200, which is a small investment if it can cover tens of thousands dollars of potential medical expenses.
  • Some health care professionals recommend taking a copy of your pertinent medical records with you while traveling.

High altitudes, exotic spots

Oxygen availability declines at higher altitudes, which can place unique stressors on the cardiovascular system. As such, patients who are at risk of or who have established cardiovascular disease may be at an increased risk of adverse events when staying at mountainous locations. However, these risks may be minimized by appropriate pretravel assessments and planning through shared decisionā€making between patients and their managing health care professionals.

Talk to your health care team before your trip to understand what you should do to prepare. You may wish to gradually move up the mountain and acclimate at lower elevations before moving to the higher altitudes. People with coronary artery disease and angina should anticipate that reduced oxygen levels may increase angina. Your heart has to work harder, especially if you already have blockage. Watch out for shortness of breath or other symptoms that could indicate you’re tipping from a stable to an unstable state.

Be mindful of your fluid consumption and sodium (salt) intake if you have cardiomyopathy or a history of heart failure. A balanced fluid intake is important in these conditions.

If you’re traveling to a country where certain vaccines are needed to guard against disease, it’s not likely the immunization will affect your heart. The bigger concern may be consistent access to quality medical care.

Consider selecting destinations in parts of the world that both interest you and have many options for health care you may need while you are visiting.

Long distance precautions

Sitting immobile on long plane flights or car, train or bus rides can slightly increase a normal person’s risk of blood clots in the legs, but associated medical issues usually contribute to it. If someone has peripheral artery disease (PAD) or a history of heart failure, the clot risk increases. Recent surgery, older age and catheters in a large vein may also increase your risk of blood clots. Getting up and walking around when possible is recommended for long flights, just be sure the seatbelt light is not on when you do so. Stopping to take a quick break during long car rides may help as well.

Tell your health care professional about your travel plans to get the best advice on what precautions, if any, you may need to take. For example, some people might need compression stockings or additional oxygen. Others might need to watch fluids closely or avoid alcohol. And some may not be able to fly.