Traveling Safely With Atrial Fibrillation
If having atrial fibrillation (AFib) makes you anxious about travel, you can relax. "As long as you're getting good medical care, traveling with AFib shouldn't be a problem," says N. A. Mark Estes, MD, director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Center at Tufts University School of Medicine. Try planning ahead to make your trip fun and relaxing.
Before You Go
Talk to your cardiologist. Tell your doctor where you're planning to go and for how long. Ask if there are any reasons you shouldn't make the trip and what precautions you should take.
Find out if your implanted device is common where you're traveling. You could be visiting an exotic location where your particular device -- pacemaker or ICD -- is uncommon. Ask your cardiologist for the name of a doctor or hospital in the area that will know your device and be able to help in an emergency, says Gordon Tomaselli, MD, chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Wear your medical IDbracelet or necklace, or carry your card. If you don't already have a medical ID, get one before you travel, Tomaselli says. You can buy one at most drugstores and superstores. Here’s the info to have on your ID: your medical condition, implanted devices you have, meds you take, and your doctor's contact information. One benefit of a digital ID is how much information it can store.
Pack extra medication. "Forgetting medications is one of the most common mistakes people make when traveling," Tomaselli says. First, remember to put meds on your packing list. Then bring double the amount you need. Put some in your checked luggage and some in your carry-on. That way you're sure to have enough.
Tell security about your implants. If you have a pacemaker or other device, don't go through metal detectors because they may interfere with its functioning. Ask a security person to pat you down instead, Estes says.
Move around. Most people with A-Fib have a high risk for blood clots, which can lead to stroke. Sitting for a long time -- in a car, bus, or cramped airline seat-- increases your risk even more. "If you're in the air, make sure to get up and move around regularly during the flight," Tomaselli says. If you're in a car, take breaks to stretch your legs.
Carry water. For many people with AFib, dehydration triggers symptoms. Always bring a bottle of water.
At Your Destination
Stay on schedule. Being overtired is a common trigger for AFib. Make a point, even on vacation, to stick with your normal sleep schedule.
Be active – within your limits. Physical activity is good for people with AFib. Just don't exert yourself much more than normal. If you're out of shape, for instance, don't plan a biking tour across Europe. Pushing yourself too hard could trigger AFib symptoms.
Don't overindulge. It's easy to eat and drink more than usual when you're away. But alcohol and overeating both trigger AFib symptoms, Estes says. As much as you can, stick to your normal diet.
Watch for symptoms. As always, look out for unusual symptoms. Get medical help right away if you have: AFib that feels different or goes on longer than usual, chest pain, or any symptoms of stroke, such as confusion or weakness.