Holidays and travel

Holidays and travelling with a heart condition - British Heart FoundationGoing on holiday when you've got a heart condition should still be an enjoyable time which gives you the chance to relax, rest and unwind.

However, if you’ve recently been diagnosed with, or had treatment for a heart condition, it's best to wait until you feel recovered before going on a holiday.

Is it safe for me to go on holiday?

Most people with a heart condition are able to go on holiday. If your heart condition is stable, well controlled and you feel well, you should be okay. However, when planning your holiday you should think about:

  • staying in accommodation that’s easy to reach and close to any amenities
  • taking a relaxing holiday. Don’t go to  destinations that are too hilly or do activities that are too vigorous unless you’re confident that you’re recovered and are fit enough for that level of activity
  • keeping an up-to-date list of all your medication and doses in your purse or wallet, just in case you lose any of them, including the generic and brand name of your medicines
  • taking enough medications with you to last throughout your holiday
  • if you are travelling by air or going overseas, get a letter of explanation from your GP regarding your condition, drugs, allergies and any medical devices you may have (for example, a pacemaker or ICD)
  • making sure you have the right travel insurance to cover your condition

Can I travel to very hot or cold climates?

Avoid going to countries where there are extreme temperatures, whether it's very hot or very cold, as this can put an added strain on your heart.

Can I travel to high altitudes?

Avoid travelling to high altitudes (above 2,000 metres) as the higher you go above sea level, the less oxygen there is in the air. This means that less oxygen will be carried in your blood. This can cause headaches, extreme breathlessness or can cause angina.

If you do plan to travel to a high altitude destination, get advice first from your doctor or heart specialist.

Getting to your destination

The most stressful part can sometimes be getting to and from your holiday destination. To reduce any problems you might get from travelling:

  • plan your route and allow plenty of time for transport so that you're not rushed
  • use bags and suitcases on wheels so that you’re not carrying heavy luggage.

Can I travel by air?

According to expert guidance from the British Cardiovascular Society, most people with heart and circulatory disease can travel by air safely without risking their health.

However, you should always check with your GP or heart specialist that you are fit enough to travel by air, particularly if you’ve recently had a heart attack, heart surgery or been in hospital due to your heart condition.

If you’re given the go ahead to take a holiday that involves air travel and think you’ll need assistance at the airport terminal or during the flight, then let the airport or airline know well in advance. This may include help with your luggage or early boarding to the plane.

It’s safe to use your glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) spray while on the plane if you need to.

To take medications that are liquids, creams or gels over 100ml in your hand luggage, you’ll need a letter from your doctor and approval from the airline before you travel.

If you are flying through times zones, it may be difficult to keep to your pattern of taking your medications. Your GP or Practice Nurse will be able to advise you on how best to deal with this.

Am I safe to walk through the airport security systems?

If you have a pacemaker or an ICD you should take your device identification/card with you and inform the airport staff that you have a device inserted. If you are asked to pass through the security system, walk through at a normal pace and don't linger.

Most modern pacemakers and ICDs are well shielded against outside interference and so interference is very unlikely, although the metal casing may trigger the security alarm. If a hand-held metal detector is used, it should not be placed directly over your device.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) can provide you with further advice and information on the safety aspects of airport security systems when you have a pacemaker or an ICD.

Am I at risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)?

DVT is when blood clots in a deep vein, such as in the legs. For most people the risk of developing DVT while travelling by air is very low. However, if you’ve previously had DVT or had recent surgery then your risk of developing DVT is higher and you should speak with your doctor before travelling anywhere by air. If they advise you to wear support stockings for the flight, ensure they are the right size for your leg and calf measurement.

To help reduce your risk of a DVT you should:

  • change your position by walking up and down the aisles every hour or when it is safe to do so
  • do some simple exercises in your seat, like stretching your legs and ankles.
  • keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine during the flight.

If you’re considered to be at high risk of developing a DVT, then an injection that helps to prevent blood clots, called a heparin injection, may be given by your doctor.

You shouldn’t take aspirin or any other medications to thin the blood without seeking advice from your doctor first. If you take aspirin regularly on prescription, you should continue to take this as directed by your doctor.