On average, every seven minutes in the UK somebody has a heart attack, caused by a sudden interruption to the heart’s blood supply. Though they can range from mild to extremely severe, a heart attack can have an ongoing impact on a person’s health. That doesn’t automatically mean travelling is no longer a possibility, but it’s important to speak to your doctor before planning a holiday overseas.
“A holiday is a great way to relax and unwind, but it is best to wait until you have fully recovered from a heart attack before you start planning an overseas holiday,” says Lucy Wilkinson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (www.bhf.org.uk). “There is no general time frame for how long people should wait to travel overseas following a heart attack; this is something that should be discussed with your doctor and/or cardiac rehabilitation team.”
If you are planning to fly, you may be advised to wait until you’re deemed to be at ‘low risk’ of suffering another heart attack. A number of factors can affect this, including your age, general medical history, any complications from heart attack’s you’ve already suffered and ongoing treatments. “If you are stable, your symptoms well controlled and you are feeling well then you should be able to travel, but it’s important to get medical clearance first,” says Wilkinson. “And always ensure that you have adequate health insurance that covers your condition before travelling abroad.”
There may be some circumstances when doctors advise you not to travel overseas. “If you have a heart attack due to severe coronary artery disease, which is not able to be treated with stenting or bypass surgery, you may find your doctor will advise against overseas travel due to the health risks involved,” Wilkinson notes.
Certain destinations, as well as certain types of holiday activities, might be best avoided if you’ve had a heart attack. “Your doctor will let you know if there are any special precautions you should take. We suggest people with heart conditions avoid travelling to places with extreme temperatures, as being too hot or too cold can put added strain on the heart,” Wilkinson explains. “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, which means less oxygen will be carried in your blood. This can cause headaches, extreme breathlessness, or angina. Long journeys can increase the risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If you plan to travel long distances, make sure you take frequent breaks and get up to walk around.”
Naturally, you will want to enjoy your holiday – but at the same time, be mindful of keeping up with any ongoing treatment and follow-up appointments related to your heart health. “Your doctor will advise how often you’re required to attend for follow-ups after a heart attack. This may be quite frequently to begin with, and then become more spaced out over time, but will depend on your condition,” explains Wilkinson. “If you plan to travel at a time when you should be attending a follow-up appointment, you should let your doctor know and make sure you rearrange.”
Similarly, while everybody likes to let their hair down on holiday, it’s important not to let those healthy lifestyle habits fall by the wayside entirely. “We recommend people maintain a healthy lifestyle and aim to reduce any risk factors to keep well after a heart attack,” says Wilkinson. “For instance, if you’re overweight, aim to lose some weight and maintain a healthy BMI. If you smoke, aim to quit smoking. Try to maintain a healthy diet, which is low in saturated fat and salt. Try to alleviate stress; this might be by taking a holiday!”
Keeping up with any medication you’ve been prescribed will be vital too, so ensure you “travel with an up-to-date list of your medications and have enough to last for the whole trip”.
Wilkinson adds: “Also bear in mind some countries have different guidance on which drugs are ‘controlled’, so a prescription is vital. You should also consider a small amount to get you through a few days in your hand luggage, in case your hold luggage is delayed or goes missing.”