High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, causes over half of all strokes and heart attacks in the UK.
While the statistics are frightening – high blood pressure can also lead to vascular dementia and kidney disease – the condition can be managed and shouldn’t stop you travelling.
Preparation before you go and simple precautions at your destination can reduce the risk of holiday health hitches.
Can I fly with high blood pressure?
Talk to your doctor about travel plans before you book your flight.
If blood pressure is unstable or very high, it’s likely (s)he’ll advise against flying. Ditto if you’ve just started medication as there may be side effects that need monitoring.
Never travel against doctor's advice or you'll invalidate your travel insurance.
DVT or deep vein thrombosis is an issue for everyone, but people with high blood pressure should take extra care.
Calcium channel blockers may make ankles swell. Do leg exercises to improve circulation.
Avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water to stop dehydration.
Don’t eat salty peanuts or snacks which can increase blood pressure levels.
Get all the recommended jabs for your destination. Your doctor may advise against certain antimalarials (eg mefloquine) if you’re on beta-blockers.
Choose location and accommodation wisely. Avoid resorts in hilly areas and hotels with no air conditioning and lots of stairs.
Destinations with extremely hot or cold climates put extra strain on your system.
Blood pressure rises at high altitude locations and may increase the risk of stroke. A trip to Kilimanjaro or Machu Pichu may not be for you.
If holidaying in a mountainous area, ask your doctor about precautions to take, whether medication should be adjusted, and how to deal with time zone changes.
Changing medication just before you go on holiday isn’t a good idea, so it’s important to see your GP well in advance.
You don’t want serious side effects (rash, dizziness) just as you step off the plane and are far from home.
Sports & Activities
As long as you’re fit to start with, gentle holiday activities that use lots of muscles at the same time such as swimming, cycling and walking should be fine in moderate temperatures.
Not so good are sports and activities with speed and atmospheric pressure changes - parachuting, skydiving, high altitude trekking, motor racing.
Neither is diving or scuba diving. Blood pressure increases underwater and diving puts extra strain on the heart.
Whether you can dive depends on your blood pressure level and medication.
Beta blockers such as Atenolol can slow the heart or lower blood pressure too much causing dizziness or blackouts. A reputable dive company will get you to complete a medical questionnaire.
Snorkelling is safe to a depth of 3 metres.
Spa facilities – hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms, hot springs, mud baths - should be avoided. Ditto swimming in very hot or very low temperatures.
Check health warnings before you hop on Disney World rides such as Space Mountain, Mission Space and Tower of Terror.
Travel insurance for high blood pressure
A lot of people think they don’t need to declare their high blood pressure because they take medication for it. Wrong! It’s a pre-existing medical condition and must be disclosed.
If you have a heart attack or stroke on holiday but didn’t declare your high blood pressure to the insurer, you’ll have to foot the bill for medical assistance yourself.
If you have high blood pressure combined with other medical conditions, eg diabetes, high cholesterol, angina, this increases your risk of health problems so expect to pay extra.