Tips for traveling with heart failure
The summer travel season is here, and with any good vacation, some planning is in order. This is especially true if you are living with congestive heart failure.
"You may feel well, especially if you've been treated for heart failure, but you should still take precautions," says Gundersen cardiologist Sampoornima Setty, MD. "Most importantly, pace yourself and rest when you feel tired. Avoid overexertion particularly in hot climates or at high altitude. And if you have any concerns, talk with your cardiologist before you leave."
According to Dr. Setty, a car trip or cruise is generally safe. But sitting for a long time can restrict blood circulation. "During road trips, stop every couple of hours and walk around to improve blood flow," she encourages.
Dr. Setty cautions that altitude can compound the symptoms of heart failure. If your symptoms are poorly controlled or if you've had a recent heart attack, chest pains, arrhythmia or surgery, consult with your doctor before traveling by plane. If your doctor says it's okay to fly, stand up and walk around frequently during the flight. Even seated, massage your legs, wiggle your toes and flex your ankles to promote circulation.
TIP: It is safe to fly with newer cardiac pacemakers and/or implantable defibrillators and they are not affected by airline metal detectors.
Maintain your exercise routine and diet as much as possible when traveling. "You'll need to be careful about sodium intake. Stay hydrated with plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, but be sure to stay within your fluid restriction. If flying, request a low sodium/low fat or diabetic meal when you book your flight," Dr. Setty suggests.
She also adds, "Take along twice the medication you think you might need in case you get delayed. Keep medications with you, not in your luggage. Carry a list of medications, including the generic names. If you lose your medications, this makes it easier to get replacements quickly."
Remember, if you experience unusual or worsening symptoms while traveling, including shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, dizziness or extreme fatigue, seek medical attention immediately.