Holidays and travel

Suitcase with warm clothes, travel, passport, gloves, warm shoes, winter

Going on holiday when you’ve got a heart or circulatory condition should still be an enjoyable time which gives you the chance to relax, rest and unwind.

Have you recently been diagnosed with, or had treatment for a heart or circulatory condition? It is best to wait until you have recovered before going on a holiday.

Is it safe to go on holiday with a heart condition?

Most people with a heart or circulatory condition are able to go on holiday. If your condition is stable, well controlled and you feel well, you should be okay. However, you may want to check with your GP first.

Here are some handy hints and tips for things you should think about when planning your holiday:

  • stay in accommodation that’s easy to get to and close to amenities
  • plan 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
  • make note of emergency numbers and how to get medical help
  • 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, such as a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) 
  • carry phone numbers for your GP and family members
  • make sure you have the adequate travel insurance to cover your condition.

Travelling with medication

It is essential that you bring enough medications with you to last throughout your holiday. Keep them in your hand luggage if you are flying to your destination, some people keep some in their suitcase too. Keep 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.

Will you need to carry any essential medical supplies in your hand luggage? You’ll need a letter from your doctor explaining what they’re for.

Do you need to take medications that are liquids, creams or gels over 100ml in your hand luggage? Then you’ll need a letter from your doctor and approval from the airline before you travel. You’ll also need to carry the medication separately and declare it at security.

You should also check if there are any restrictions on medications that can be brought in to the country you’re travelling to. You can do this through the country’s embassy or high commission.

Can I travel alone?

Most people with a heart condition will be okay travelling alone. Follow the helpful tips above and share the details of your holiday with your GP and family before departure. Be prepared and make sure you are bringing enough medication for the duration of your holiday and find out where the nearest hospital is at your destination. 

Travelling with a child with a heart condition

When planning to go on holiday with a child with a heart condition it is important to book well in advance in order to give yourself enough time to order any medications needed, and to arrange transport options. 
Seek advice from your GP or heart specialist before booking a holiday to make sure the child is able to fly or undertake a long journey.

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. Think about suitable holiday destinations and precautions you may need to take using the list above.

Can I travel to very hot and cold climates?

Discuss with your GP or heart specialist before going to countries where there are extreme temperatures, whether it's very hot or very cold.

This can put an added strain on your heart, especially if you have conditions such as angina or heart failure. If you take diuretics (otherwise known as water tablets such as Frusemide) and you’re going somewhere hot, talk to your GP before going away. 

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 bring on angina symptoms

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. 

If you need to, it’s safe to use your glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) spray while on the plane. 

If you are flying through times zones, it may be difficult to keep to your pattern of taking your medications. Take them as normal on the day you travel and then 12 hours later/as prescribed until you have acclimatized to your environment. Your GP or Practice Nurse will be able to advise you on how best to deal with this. See section above for more details on travelling with medication.   

Am I safe to walk through airport security scanners?

Scanning devices and metal detectors shouldn’t cause a problem. 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 have an ICD, you can ask for a hand search instead. 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)?

Travelling can be tiring and long journeys can increase your risk of developing a type of blood clot called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which typically develops in the lower limbs. 

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:

  • walk up and down the aisles in the airplane every hour or when it is safe to do so, especially during long-haul flights
  • do some simple exercises in your seat, like stretching your legs and circling your 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 DVT, then an injection that helps to reduce the risk of blood clots may be prescribed 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. 

Find out more

For more guidance on how to enjoy a healthy holiday: