5 Tips for Traveling with Afib
Travel Tips for Atrial Fibrillation
Symptoms of atrial fibrillation (Afib), such as an irregular heartbeat or fatigue, can come on unexpectedly and be scary. But once you've worked out an atrial fibrillation treatment plan with your doctor to control your symptoms and reduce your stroke risk, you can go on living your life — and that includes traveling.
“People often ask me if it’s safe to travel with atrial fibrillation,” says Davendra Mehta, MD, PhD, a professor of cardiology at the Icahn School of Medicine and the director of cardiac electrophysiology at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. “In most cases, I can tell them that there’s really no increased risk.”
Before You Travel With Atrial Fibrillation
“Always check in with your doctor first to make sure your atrial fibrillation symptoms are under good control before you travel,” Dr. Mehta says.
In addition, follow these travel tips to ensure your Afib treatment will be covered no matter where you’re going:
- Make sure all of your medications are up to date, and take a little extra along with you just in case you need it.
- Take all of your medical information along as well as the contact information for your doctor.
- Check your destination to make sure there are medical facilities nearby that can handle an Afib emergency if necessary.
- If you take a blood-thinner (anticoagulant) medication that needs to be monitored, make sure there's a lab at your destination that can do your blood testing.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet. This should list your condition, emergency contact information, any implanted medical devices, and the medications you take. Digital ID devices that can store your medical information are now available.
“Many people with atrial fibrillation who take an anticoagulant are now prescribed newer medications that don’t require monitoring," Mehta says. If you take a traditional blood-thinner medication and need monitoring, there are self-test kits you may be able to use if a testing lab isn’t available at your destination.
However, for most people with Afib who take anticoagulant medication, the chances of developing a blood clot while traveling are very low, Mehta says.
Handling Atrial Fibrillation While Traveling
Travel with or without Afib can be stressful and tiring, so leave plenty of time to get to your destination and make your travel connections. Watch for atrial fibrillation triggers and take these travel precautions:
- If you have a pacemaker, make sure to avoid metal detectors at security checkpoints. “Security people are aware of this problem," Mehta says. "If you tell them you have a pacemaker, they will pat you down without making you go through the detector."
- Take frequent breaks to stretch and move around. This will reduce the risk for a blood clot after long periods of sitting.
- Dehydration, caffeine, and alcohol are common triggers for Afib. Make sure to drink plenty of water and go easy on the alcohol and caffeine.
- If you'll be sitting for long periods, consider wearing support stockings to help improve blood flow and prevent swelling and blood clots in your legs.
At Your Destination With Atrial Fibrillation
Once you’ve reached your travel destination, the main objective is to avoid Afib triggers. For instance, if you take a blood-thinner medication, avoid activities like motorbiking or skiing that could cause an injury and bleeding, Mehta says. "Take the same precautions you’d take at home."
Here are more simple ways to manage atrial fibrillation at your destination:
- Avoid physical exhaustion.Physical stress is a common trigger for Afib symptoms. Don’t stay up later than usual, don’t push yourself too hard, and get your normal amount of sleep.
- Avoid extreme heat.As mentioned, dehydration can trigger Afib — and that can be brought on by hot temperatures. Plan your activities for morning or later in the day if your destination is in a warm climate.
- Eat well and don’t drink too much alcohol.Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean you can take a break from a healthy lifestyle.
“If you start having atrial fibrillation symptoms while traveling, treat them as you’d do so at home," Mehta says. "Rest and take your medications. In most cases, these symptoms will resolve.” Once your symptoms have cleared, avoid exercise and other triggers. See your doctor when you get home. If you have new symptoms, worse symptoms, or your symptoms aren’t going away, go to the hospital and take all of your medication and medical information with you.
There's no reason to avoid travel with Afib as long as you talk with your doctor and do some planning before you head out. Remember to take good care of yourself, just as you would at home. Then kick back and enjoy your time away.
Video: Can I fly if i have Afib?
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