Worry-Free Traveling with Atrial Fibrillation

Making the Most of Travel and Leisure Opportunities

Many people diagnosed with AFib live long, full and active lives. If you’ve been recently diagnosed, or if you’re considering your travel and leisure options with AFib, here you’ll find helpful information to plan a safe and enjoyable outing.

In this section, you’ll find tips and insight about:

  • Planning before you go
  • Understanding what’s involved during your travel
  • Making the most out of your time at your destination or activity


What do I need to know for travel?

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People living with chronic conditions (and often their loved ones) may feel anxious about making a decision to travel, especially if the trip involves going to an area where you may be unclear about the availability of a pharmacy or your ability to access healthcare services if you need them.

With some advance planning, most people living with AFib can arrange for a safe and enjoyable trip.
 

Before You Go:

Talk with your cardiologist.

Discuss where you plan to go, what kinds of activities you’ll be doing while you’re there, and what your initial plan would be if you should need any medical care while you’re there.  

Consider carrying a doctor-approved summary.

Patient Ed Pilkington, a military veteran, wanted to return to VietNam for a medical mission trip. His cardiologist said, “If this is important to you, I think it’s okay. However, I’d like you to carry a letter from me, wear your digital ID bracelet, and also have a “buddy” on your team who will keep a copy of this letter from me and who will provide it to any other doctor if you needed treatment you while you’re away. Of course, we don’t expect that anything will happen, but if something did, I want the other doctor to have a clear picture of your history.

Identify yourself.

If you have a medical ID bracelet or necklace, wear it. If you have a card, be sure you carry it so that it can be found if needed. If you don’t have these already, secure them before leaving. You may want to consider whether you’d rather have a digital version or an imprinted version. You can purchase one online or get one locally at your drugstore.

Make sure to include:

  • Your medical condition(s)
  • Prescriptions you take, and consider listing any anticoagulants first
  • Any implanted devices you may have
  • Your doctor's contact information
  • If space allows, list surgeries

Some people prefer a digital ID because it allows for more complete information to be shared.

Plan your medication, and pack extra in a separate bag.

Forgetting to pack medications is unfortunately quite common, and losing a bag during a flight is, also unfortunately, not outside the realm of possibility.  

First, remember to put your meds in your bag. Then bring more than you’ll need in case you have delays or something causes your meds to be lost or damaged. Consider putting some in your checked luggage and another set in your carry-on. You’ll know for sure that you have enough. Here are some of the rules governing air travel and medications.

Plan how you will maintain your medication routine.

During travel, it’s easy for well-established routines to become derailed. Determine ahead of time what you will do to keep taking your medication at regularly prescribed intervals.

Pack healthy food options for the road.

Consider packing some healthy snacking options and water bottles to help you maintain a balanced and healthy diet while traveling. You don’t want to disrupt your body’s nutrition by consuming whatever food is readily available at a gas station or fast food restaurant. If you’re flying, you may need to stock up after clearing security.

If you have an implanted device, check your options.

If you have an implanted pacemaker or an artificial valve and you’re traveling by air, you may want to determine your airport security needs.  Some manufacturers provide specific recommendations about travel needs that may relate to each particular device.  

You may call the Transportation and Safety Administration to clarify any needed documentation you’ll need to fill out. Travelers may also request a Passenger Support Specialist ahead of time by calling the TSA Cares hotline at 1-855-787-2227.

Forms for disability travel cards are found here.

You may also want to find out if there are medical centers located at your destination that have experience with your product. You may be able to call the manufacturer or ask your cardiologist if it’s important, in your situation, to know where should go in the event of an emergency.

During Travel:

Airport Security

Once there, let the security officers know if you have a pacemaker or implanted device. According to the TSA website, “Passengers who have internal medical devices should not be screened by a metal detector and should instead request to be screened by imaging technology or a patdown. While TSA has no evidence that screening by imaging technology will affect such devices, passengers with concerns should contact their physicians.”

Plan to Keep Moving

Most people with AFib are at risk for developing blood clots, which can lead to stroke. Sitting for extended periods of time can affect your circulation and may increase the risk for pooling blood to form a clot, so it’s important to get up and move around every hour or two if you can.

Drink Water

For many people with AFib, dehydration is related to episodes of atrial fibrillation, so take care to ensure you’re drinking regularly, even if it means more restroom stops than you’d prefer.

Choose drinks and foods wisely

“What can I get you to drink?” the server asks. It can be easy when viewing an array of soft drink cans to select whatever you’d like at the moment instead of considering which option offers the best nutritional value. You’ll give yourself the greatest opportunity for travel success by staying focused on what your body needs to stay healthy. Water, including mineral water, is considered best because dehydration brings on AFib.

After You Arrive:

Keep a regular schedule of sleeping and waking.

The stresses associated with being overly fatigued can act as a trigger for AFib, so plan accordingly and get the appropriate rest you need.

Make time for the right level of physical activity.

Physical activity is important during travel just as it is during your normal routine. Just don't exert yourself beyond what your doctor has approved for you.

Find ways to maintain quality nutrition and avoid vacation portion-distortion.

Because alcohol and overeating can both trigger AFib symptoms, keep your diet as close to normal as you can. Remaining hydrated is also important whether you’re at home or away, especially if you’re at a high altitude or in especially hot or dry weather.

Watch for symptoms.

As always, stay alert and notice any unusual symptoms. Call your doctor or your nearest medical facility right away if you notice a significant or unusual changes in your symptoms, develop chest pain, or experience any symptoms of stroke, such as confusion or weakness.

Visiting High Altitudes

Traveling to higher altitudes shouldn’t necessarily worry you, especially if your medical condition is well controlled. But be mindful of your fluid consumption and sodium (salt). Dehydration can trigger AFib symptoms, and without intentionally consuming more water, it can happen more readily at high altitudes.

High altitudes can make you more symptomatic, especially if you have heart failure along with your AFib because the air is less oxygen-rich at higher altitudes. Your heart has to work harder to deliver the air to your body, especially if you already have a reduced pumping ability. Watch out for shortness of breath or other symptoms like pressure that makes it difficult to breathe deeply. If you experience these, you may want to find a way to descend to lower altitudes and see if that resolves the problem.


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