When you are diagnosed with heart disease, or if you have had a heart attack, you may question whether you will be able to travel. There is no quicker way to become imprisoned in your own home than avoiding travel. But to be a savvy traveler, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Many people with heart problems worry about the possibility of an in-flight cardiac emergency. Such emergencies do happen but very infrequently. According to Dr. Matzen, one study found a rate of one in-flight emergency for every 39,600 passengers. Only 20 percent of these were cardiac related, making the ratio one in-flight cardiac emergency for each 198,000 travelers. If you take into consideration non-flight emergencies, for example people waiting in the terminal in comparison with the number of cardiac-related emergencies is 1 for every 500,000 passengers. These are very slim odds indeed.
You may be concerned about the effect of altitude and the decrease of oxygen pressure while in the flight. Most people have no problems at altitudes below ten thousand feet. Modern passenger jets fly at far higher altitudes, but pressurized cabins maintain an artificial altitude of eight thousand to ten thousand feet or less, making air travel generally safe, even on most frequently used air planes.
So air travel generally poses few risks for heart patients. In terms of safety, flying is safer than driving. However, flight creates conditions which make even supposedly healthy people vulnerable to problems. To decrease your risk during air travel:
Discuss the upcoming trip with your physician in case there are any additional precautions you should take. This is particularly true if you have suffered a heart attack within the past few months or if you have congestive heart failure. But it is good advice for heart patients in general.
Exercise daily to stay fit, in accordance with your physician's wishes, of course.
People on longer flights have an increased probability of experiencing symptoms although not necessarily serious ones. If you are contemplating a long trip, consider taking shorter 'legs' of flight with a stopover in between.
Allow plenty of time to get to the airport so you do not need to rush, especially if you are carrying a bag.
If you are carrying luggage, get a porter to help with your baggage or use a bag outfitted with wheels.
If you experience any symptoms, report them to airport or airline personnel. Keep a resume of your medical history with you, and request a copy of your EKG from your doctor before traveling.
There is one thing for the savvy traveler to be on guard against, and that is what has been described as "Economy Class Syndrome". People are crammed increasingly closer together in planes, and their legs become cramped. This can result in the formation of venous blood clots, which can break loose and cause serious problems, possibly even sudden death. Even healthy people can experience "Economy Class Syndrome" but if you have a history of heart failure, leg injuries, varicose veins, dehydration, or are overweight, you are at greater risk.
To avoid it, follow these steps:
If you are not already taking aspirin, consult your doctor about the advisability of taking an aspirin a day just before, during, and a week after the trip. Aspirin reduces the risk of blood clot formation.
Get advice from your doctor about the proper socks to wear and if therapeutic support hose are recommended for you. Avoid any garment that causes constriction from the groin to the ankle.
Continually stretch and flex your legs and walk around as much as possible. If you are an overweight person, consider upgrading to business or first class. Drink a lot of non-alcoholic beverages throughout the trip and avoid alcohol and salty snacks. Take two duplicate sets of prescription drugs, one in your carry-on bag, and a second in your luggage. Take copy of your EKG.