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Published on June 30, 2016

Summertime tips for traveling with heart disease

By Dr. Anthony Magnano, Special to Ponte Vedra Recorder

Millions of Americans are preparing to vacation this summer, but those who have heart disease should take a few extra precautions to ensure a healthy heart and an enjoyable trip.

Prepare medications

When you are busy packing for a big vacation, medication is one of the easiest things to forget – but missing doses can lead to serious problems. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that skipping heart medications could double the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Before you leave home, make sure you pack enough medication to last longer than the trip, in case of a flight delay or change in plans. Put medications in your carry-on luggage for easier access and to avoid any chance of an airline losing them. As an additional measure, you may want to bring a list of medications you are currently taking, as well as the contact information for your pharmacy and doctor, so you can have a prescription refilled at your destination.

Take plane precautions

Heart patients should be especially mindful of their health during plane trips because the high altitudes and long periods of inactivity pose higher risks. The air inside a plane is dry due to the altitude, which can make symptoms of some conditions worse because the heart has to work harder to get oxygen.

The dry air also causes you to dehydrate faster. According to the American Heart Association, dehydration can lead to dizziness and chest pain, or in severe cases, heart attack and stroke. Bring your own bottle of water onto your flight and don’t hesitate to ask a flight attendant for as much water as necessary to stay hydrated.

Another precaution for traveling – both in planes and cars – is to get up and move around after long periods of inactivity. Some heart disease patients have an increased risk of developing a blood clot in the leg when sitting for a long time, also known as deep vein thrombosis. These clots can be very dangerous, especially if one travels to the lungs and causes a pulmonary embolism. Performing leg exercises or standing up on your flight when possible can help reduce your risk.

Get appropriate vaccines

If you are going to an exotic destination or foreign country, check with your doctor about any vaccines you may need to prevent contracting diseases in the area. Unusual infections add stress to the body and can exacerbate the symptoms of heart disease or act as a trigger for a heart attack.

You also may want to reconsider your trip under certain circumstances. For example, you may consider avoiding countries with diseases that have no vaccines, such as the Zika virus. Another reason to re-evaluate a trip is if you’re planning to go to an exotic outdoors location, like a rural safari, where you may not have access to medical care. When you are preparing for a trip, research nearby medical facilities so you have a better idea of your options in an emergency.

For additional advice on any precautions you should take, discuss your travel plans with your doctor. Vacation is a time to leave your worries behind, and by safeguarding your health with a few simple measures, you can truly relax and enjoy your time with family and friends.

Dr. Anthony Magnano is a Ponte Vedra resident and cardiac electrophysiologist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside. For more information on Dr. Magnano and his specialty treating atrial fibrillation, visit

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