Travelling with Heart Condition / Problem

7/08/2013 -- Admin
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Heart disease is the UK's biggest killer. The main culprit is coronary artery disease that can lead to angina and heart attack.

Other serious conditions are heart failure where blood isn't pumping round the body as it should (eg high blood pressure), abnormal heart rhythms and congenital heart disease.

As long as you feel well and your condition is stable, there's no reason why you can't relax and unwind on holiday with the best of them.

All it takes is some extra planning to minimise the risks ...

To USA with heart cover

A history of serious heart problems didn't prevent full cover for trips to USA for this elderly traveller.

Talk to your GP

Discuss your holiday plans and if you're fit to fly before you book the flight, especially if you've had surgery.

Ask about medication changes needed or special precautions to take, eg taking when flying through time zones.


Depending on medication, you may have to start your vaccination programme earlier. Antimalarial medicines can interact with drugs for heart disease, so check with your GP.

Holiday destination

Choose destination with care. Availability of medical care is vital, as is altitude and climate.

High altitude resorts above 2,000 metres can cause headaches, breathlessness and angina. Extreme temperatures can put a strain on your system.

Heart drugs such as ACE inhibitors and Beta blockers can be expensive or unavailable in some countries, especially rural areas and developing nations.

According to the NHS, 30% of medicine is fake in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, so only buy from official pharmacies.

People with a heart condition or high blood pressure are usually advised to avoid spa facilities such as saunas, Jacuzzis and steam rooms due to sudden changes in temperature.


Get a doctor's letter explaining your heart problem and medication. Take several copies.

Keep medication in hand luggage with doctor's letter, prescription and list of both the pharmaceutical and brand names.

Carry extra medication in hold baggage in case of lost hand luggage or travel delays.

Keep liquids in original containers packed separately in a clear plastic bag and medicines in original packaging.

Phone your travel insurer's free pre-travel advice line for foreign names for medicines and details of nearest pharmacy/doctor/public hospital. Remember travel insurers won't normally pay for private treatment.

Some countries put entry restrictions on certain drugs and the amount of medication you can take in. Check transportation rules with the Embassy or High Commission of your destination. Also see Taking Prescription Medication Abroad.

Driving:  Some medication can make you drowsy. Avoid driving long distances or in countries and cities were driving is stressful. Take regular breaks and don't drive at night.

Air Travel

Airlines have different rules on flying with heart attack and heart failure. Check with your flight provider's medical department before you book.

The Civil Aviation Authority says you should allow 10 - 14 days after a coronary artery bypass before flying.

Your airline can arrange wheelchair assistance, help with luggage and priority boarding if you contact them in advance.

It's safe to use your GTN spray for angina pain on the plane, but check with the airline that it's OK to carry in your hand luggage.

Tell the airline in advance if you have syringes in hand luggage and baggage. If they won't put drugs in their fridge, use a cool bag.

Flight-related DVT (deep vein thrombosis) is always a risk especially with heart failure as you can suffer from swollen ankles and feet. Do some exercise on board, walk about and wear compression stockings.

Let airport security know if you have a pacemaker or ICD. Keep your device ID card on you.

Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and encourage blood circulation.

If you need a travel companion, ask the airline in advance for a discount on their fare.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is more expensive for people with pre-existing medical conditions such as chronic heart disease, especially pensioners over 65.

As well as age, premiums are based on the type and severity of the condition and whether you have other complications such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes

If you're recovering from a heart attack or surgery, or had a recent hospital stay because of your condition, your insurer will probably need a letter from your GP confirming your fitness to travel. 

Look for an insurer who'll cover fellow travellers on the same policy so that you've got financial protection if you need to cancel because of your heart problem.

For holidays to Europe, take your free NHS travel card also known as the EHIC (EU Medical Insurance Card).

Helpful websites: British Heart Foundation, NHS Choices