If, like most of us, you are looking to relax and unwind away from the pressures of everyday life, a holiday could be just what the doctor ordered – all the more so if you have a heart condition which requires you to take it a little more easy. With the right advance planning, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy your holiday to the full.
First, you’ll need to get the green light to travel from your GP and heart specialist as you wouldn’t want your heart condition to spoil all the fun.
Then it’s time to check off these travel tips which should help you get well organised:
What to bring
- All your medications plus 50 per cent more just in case you are delayed on your travels. Keep them safely with you in your hand luggage – if your suitcase goes astray, you won’t be without. Leave all the pharmaceutical labels on the packaging of your medications; that way they can be identified easily at security and customs.
- A list of all your medications including the generic names and doses. You might like to photograph or photocopy the bottle/box and prescriptions which will give you a handy reference of the names and the active ingredients of the drugs you are taking. Keep the copies safely with you, just in case you lose any or need to show a doctor while away.
- Your pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) plus identification card. You may need to show the ID card at airport security or present it to a health professional should you need treatment on holiday.
- Contact numbers and website addresses for the nearest pacemaker and ICD manufacturers to where you will be staying, along with contact details of the representatives in the country you are visiting.
- Flight socks/compression stockings and any blood-thinning drugs your doctor prescribes. These should reduce the risk of blood clots and swelling during the journey. The chances of experiencing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are greater than usual when you fly, so you’ll need to go well prepared.
- Your travel insurance documents. Travel insurers require you to contact them immediately if you need to make a claim on your policy, so keep these documents handy with you wherever you go.
- The European Heath Insurance Card (EHIC). Although this card is no substitute for travel insurance, it will help get you get free or subsidised treatment in EEA countries (plus Switzerland and other places with health agreements with the UK). The NHS provides more information and a list of countries currently covered. Bear in mind that unlike travel insurance, the EHIC does not cover such things as: cancellation; lost or stolen baggage; repatriation; or extra flights and accommodation should you miss your flight home due to an illness
Flying with a heart condition
Travel with a competent companion who can help you carry your bags if necessary or assist with any potentially tricky or unexpected travel situations.
Book speedy boarding as this can greatly reduce stress and avoid you having to wait in lengthy queues.
Tell the security staff if you have a Pacemaker or ICD – You won’t want to set off the metal detector alarm unnecessarily, so let them know about your device and you will be searched using a hand-held device instead of the usual security device. Make sure the examiner is fully aware that the security device can’t be held over the ICD for more than a couple of seconds. Consult the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for useful travel advice and information on airport security when you have a pacemaker or an ICD fitted.
DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis). We mentioned earlier that blood clots can be more common if you have a heart condition. You may be advised to wear below-the-knee compression stockings on flights lasting over eight hours, especially if you: are over 50 years of age; are clinically obese; have large varicose veins; have congestive heart failure; are pregnant; have recently had major surgery; or use oral contraceptives or other hormone replacement medications.
If you are at risk of DVT, these three tips might make your flight more comfortable:
- Get an aisle seat so that you can walk up and down the aisle and stretch your legs often, without clambering over the knees of the passengers in your row.
- Store your bag in the overhead locker to allow extra space for stretching your legs and flexing your toes.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks and caffeine, especially while flying. Drink more water than usual as flying can be dehydrating.
Carrying liquids, creams or gels over 100ml? You will need a letter from your doctor confirming their necessity. It’s a good idea to contact the airline beforehand for their confirmation that you can travel with them.
Different time zones can sometimes make it difficult to keep to your usual routine of medications. Your GP or nurse should be able to advise you on how best to manage a difference in time zone.
Where to go and stay
It’s easy to get ambitious with travel plans when choosing your dream holiday. There are so many exciting things to do and places to see. But you’ll need to be a little cautious and avoid some things:
- Hills can sometimes prove to be too strenuous, whether they are part of your list of activities or in the accommodation you are staying at.
- You must have easy access to your holiday accommodation to avoid undue stress on your heart. Book ground floor accommodation so that it’s easy to get to and close to any amenities you will be enjoying.
- Depending on your heart condition, temperatures shouldn’t be excessively high or low. Immersion in cold water makes you blood redistribute around your body, causing pressure changes in your chest cavity and increasing your blood pressure.
- High altitudes (above 2,000 metres) with low oxygen levels can cause breathlessness, headaches or even angina.
- Don’t plan vigorous activities, unless of course you’re fully confident that your heart is fit enough to take the strain.
Travel insurance for heart conditions
Travel insurance that covers heart conditions is a vital part of being well prepared for your holidays. You must declare your heart condition plus any other conditions you may have when you take out the policy as this ensures you are adequately covered should you need to make a claim.
Bear in mind that the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) covers emergency medical treatment only. Travel without a separate travel insurance policy and the costs of repatriation (which can run to thousands of pounds) will not be covered by the EHIC. Neither will you be insured against unexpected extra accommodation costs plus a new flight home should you become hospitalised while away. A private policy can also cover you for trip cancellation and curtailment plus many other unexpected costs you’d otherwise have to pay from your own pocket.