When to travel after a heart condition

Although most people who have a heart attack or recent cardiovascular diagnosis can travel soon after without any complications, there are some considerations and precautions that should be taken.

According to The British Cardiovascular Society people who are classed as ‘low risk’ may be able to travel by air 3 days after a heart attack and the Civil Aviation Authority recommend 7-10 days. But what is classed as low risk?

This is the first heart attack you have had

You are under the age of 65

There is no further treatment planned

There have been no complications

People who are classed as ‘medium risk’ i.e. no other heart conditions or no further treatment planned can travel as soon as 10 days after a heart attack. ‘High risk’ is classed as an unstable heart condition or heart failure where there is a risk of further complications, in this case you should wait until you are stable to travel.

Despite the recommendations, you should always check that your GP and treating doctor are happy for you to travel and you have discussed your travel plans with them.  For example, duration of flight, country you are travelling to etc.

Travelling by air with a heart condition

Having a heart condition doesn’t mean you are unable to travel by air however if you are recovering from, or have recently had, a heart attack, any unscheduled appointments/treatment or heart surgery then you should always check that your GP or Consultant are happy for you to travel to your chosen destination.

If you have been diagnosed with Angina you may have been prescribed a GTN (glyceryl nitrate) spray. It is safe to use a GTN spray in flight but you should also make the cabin crew aware when boarding the plane.

If you need assistance at the airport, for example; to carry luggage, travel around the airport and board the plane, then speak to the airline or tour operator when booking your holiday. Most airlines are happy to offer this service; however, it can be in high demand so make sure arrangements are in place early.

Tips for travelling with a heart condition

Depending on your heart condition, planning a relaxing holiday may be best. Try and avoid hilly areas, high altitudes or strenuous activities.

Extreme heat and extreme cold can have an adverse effect if you have a heart condition, so keep this in mind when choosing a holiday destination.

Once you have brought a travel insurance policy, make a note of the emergency contact number and the policy number and take it with you – just in case.

If you have a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) make sure you carry your device identification card with you and alert airport staff before undergoing security checks. If you are scanned using a hand-held metal detector this should never be placed directly over the device.

When researching your destination, check to see where the local public hospital and pharmacy is located.

If you are travelling with prescription medication check that they are legal in the country you are travelling to and carry a copy of your prescription and/or a Doctors note.

Travelling by air, particularly on long-haul flights, can increase the risk of blood clots or deep vein thrombosis – as can having a heart condition. Your GP will be able to advise you on some exercises and you can pick up some flight socks at the pharmacy.

If you have had corrective treatment for your heart condition i.e. a cardiac ablation to treat and irregular heart beat or a bypass/angioplasty following a blocked artery this will still need to be declared to your travel insurance provider.