SEATTLE, Dec. 4, 2023 — For people living with a health condition like heart disease or stroke, traveling away from home can pose some special challenges. The American Heart Association, the leading voluntary health organization devoted to a world of longer, healthier lives for all, says with a little pre-travel prep, you can turn travel woes from “oh no” to “let’s go!”
“As we look forward to the holidays, many people will be traveling to spend treasured time with family and friends, or maybe just to enjoy some relaxation on the beach or ski slopes. For some that just means throwing a few essentials into a backpack and hitting the roads or airways,” said Ruchi Kapoor, M.D., Ph.D. a Bellevue, Wash. cardiologist and board member of the American Heart Association, Puget Sound. “It’s not always that simple for people who have chronic health conditions that require multiple medications or special medical equipment. There are also considerations for how to maintain your health and not put yourself at increased risk.”
Kapoor said that doesn’t mean travel is off limits if you have a chronic health condition. A little planning and preparation can take the stress out of travel and prepare you for your next big adventure.
- Check in with your health care provider – Talk to your primary care physician or specialist about your travel plans and any special considerations related to your health. They can offer personalized guidance on any restrictions or precautions you need to keep in mind. It’s also a good idea to carry a copy of your key medical records and a list of phone numbers for your doctors, including emergency contact information.
- Manage your medications – Make sure medications are clearly labeled and that you have enough to last your entire trip. Carry a list of all medications, including dosages and pharmacy information. If you’re traveling across time zones, work with your health care provider to adjust medication schedules appropriately. Some medications may need to be refrigerated, so you’ll need to research how to pack those appropriately for airport security or other transport and ensure you’ll have a refrigerator in your hotel or other lodging.
- Plan for transporting medical devices and supplies – Whether you’re traveling by airplane, bus, train, cruise ship or other means, you will want to plan ahead if you have any special medical equipment. If you use a wheelchair, walker or other assistance for getting around, you may need to check in with the company you’ll be traveling with for how to transport those. That also goes for portable oxygen devices or CPAP machines. Don’t forget to pack your blood pressure or glucose monitor if you use one regularly.
“Depending on where you’re traveling, you’ll also want to do some research and planning specific to the location,” Kapoor said. “The local climate and elevation may impact how you feel – extreme heat or cold can affect circulation and put extra strain on your heart. In high altitudes there is less oxygen in the air, and that means less oxygen will be carried in your blood. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the local emergency numbers and the location of nearby medical facilities and pharmacies of the area where you’re visiting.
The American Heart Association has an interactive map to find hospitals across the U.S. recognized for consistently following up-to-date, research-based treatment guidelines for heart and stroke care.
Kapoor said air travel is especially busy during the holiday season, and planning ahead can make the experience easier.
- Walking through busy airports can take a toll. When booking your ticket request a wheelchair or courtesy cart to get to your terminal.
- If you have a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) you may need to go through a special security screening at the airport.
- Long plane rides, especially flights longer than four hours, may increase your risk for blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Consider wearing compression socks and get up and walk around the cabin when it’s safe to do so to help improve your circulation. You can also exercise your calf muscles and stretch your legs while you're sitting with some simple heel and toe lifts.
Getting stuck in an airport during flight delays can be frustrating, but in many U.S. airports, you can turn that lousy layover into a lifesaving experience. Look for specially marked kiosks in some cities where you can learn the two easy steps of Hands-Only-CPR through an interactive teaching module. A Hands-Only CPR kiosk is available at the central terminal of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Know the signs of a heart attack, stroke or cardiac arrest and if you or someone you’re with experience any symptoms, call 9-1-1. EMS can often start treatment immediately and put a hospital on alert for the type of emergency care needed.
“Maintaining your health while you’re traveling is also important. Stay well hydrated, don’t overindulge in food or drink, know your physical activity limits, pace yourself and rest as often as you need,” Kapoor said. “Anticipating a big trip can be stressful for many – and stress is not good for your health. Every individual’s condition is unique, and you’ll want to tailor your travel plans to your specific needs. By taking a little time now to plan and prepare, you can enjoy your holiday or vacation can be just what the doctor ordered to help you unwind and recharge.
Learn more about healthy traveling at heart.org.
- Use this medication chart to keep a copy of your prescriptions.
- AHA health information: Travel and Heart Disease | American Heart Association
- AHA News: Advance planning can lower risks of high-altitude activities for people with heart disease
- Follow us on X (formerly known as Twitter) @HeartNews
About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Instagram, X or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.
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