There are more than 2 million people in the UK with arrhythmias or heart problems and, whilst it can feel daunting when you have been recently diagnosed, rest assured that most conditions are treatable and allow you to continue living a normal life. In fact, most people with heart conditions should be fine to travel, just as long as they feel well and their GP agrees their condition is stable and well controlled.
Arrhythmia can take a few different forms. The most common type is atrial fibrillation (AF) where the heart beats irregularly and faster than normal. AF is typically seen more in older people or in those who are overweight or drink an excess of alcohol. In comparison, supraventricular tachycardia describes episodes of abnormally fast heart rate at rest and bradycardia causes the heart to beat slower than normal.
More serious arrhythmias include heart block which causes the heart to beat much slower than normal and can cause people to collapse, and ventricular fibrillation which is a rare disorganised rhythm of heartbeats that can lead to loss of consciousness and even death if not treated appropriately.
It is important to take advice from your GP before you travel and ensure you are aware of likely triggers which can bring on arrhythmia. Triggers can include viral illnesses, alcohol, tobacco, exercise, caffeine and some prescribed or illegal recreational drugs.
When travelling with any pre-existing medical condition, it’s important to plan ahead, make sure all your bases are covered and put some extra thought into the type of holiday, itinerary and destination you are considering.
Firstly, those with arrhythmia may want to check their accommodation is not too remote or at least within easy reach of medical facilities just in case of emergency. Look up the local phone numbers and procedures for contacting emergency services as well as a local doctor – it’s likely you will enjoy your holiday without incident but having the right information to hand will put your mind at ease.
If you are treating your arrhythmia with medication, it’s important to keep an up-to-date list of what you are taking and when you need to take it, along with the original prescription and packaging. This will ensure that, should your medication go missing, you are able to find replacements with minimal fuss. Keep your medication on your person whilst travelling – not zipped away in your checked-in luggage – and always pack extra in the event that unforeseen circumstances such as a flight delay prolongs your journey.
Although your GP will be able to provide the best advice on what sort of trip is suitable for your specific condition, there are a few general rules that ought to be taken into consideration when planning a trip with arrhythmia. It is best to avoid destinations with extreme temperatures as very cold and very hot climates can put a strain on the way your heart works. It’s also a good idea to veto high altitudes (more than 2,000 metres) as the drop-in oxygen can contribute to breathlessness and angina. Finally, if you are planning to go walking, consider how difficult the terrain is – some people ought to avoid areas that are too hilly, unless they are confident their level of fitness is up to the job.
Whilst people with arrhythmia are generally safe to fly, it is crucial to discuss all travel plans with your GP before you book your ticket. Those living with heart conditions may have an increased risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on a flight, so taking steps to reduce this risk could be critical. Tips for avoiding DVT include exercising the feet and ankles regularly during a long flight and wearing specially designed compression stockings. Avoiding alcohol, drinking plenty of water and taking care of your health will also stand you in good stead.
If you have previously been fitted with a pacemaker or an ICD, remember to bring your device identification card with you and alert the security staff as you may set off the metal detector alarm.
It is imperative for those with a pre-existing medical condition to purchase the right travel insurance for their trip. Medical Travel Compared offers access to a range of insurers, some of which provide cover for pre-existing conditions. Get your quote today so that you can travel safe in the knowledge that you’re fully protected.