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Traveling and Heart Attacks -- How Traveling Can Increase the Risk of Heart Attack

Prepare Before You Pack

By Nancy Larson

Updated December 12, 2008

(LifeWire) - Even when you're getting away from it all, you can't escape the fact that heart attacks (or myocardial infarction) can happen while traveling -- especially if you've got heart disease. But certain preparations can help you have the restful vacation or pleasant business trip you deserve.

Enjoying regular getaways is good for your overall health. But according to a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, certain time periods and circumstances can increase your risk of heart attack, such as:

  • The first two days of your journey
  • Difficult driving conditions
  • Poor accommodations (although no specific ones were named)

Some of the biggest threats to travelers with heart disease are associated with flying. Prolonged sitting, dehydration and decreased oxygen aboard airplanes can all contribute to venous thrombosis (clots forming in the veins of the legs, arms or pelvis), which can lead to a heart attack. Flying for more than eight hours further increases your risk of a heart attack.

Taking these actions can help keep you safe in the air:

  • Bring ample, labeled supplies of all your medications in your carry-on bag.
  • If you're at risk for venous thrombosis, wear compression stockings. Get an aisle seat so that you can stand up frequently.
  • Avoid alcohol because it can lead to dehydration, which increases heart rate.

All travelers with heart disease should take these precautions:

  • Get local medical emergency contact information for your destination.
  • Bring names and contact information for your healthcare providers at home.
  • If traveling to another country, check your insurance coverage there.
  • Make sure you have medical evacuation insurance.
  • Have plenty of your nonprescription and prescription medications with you.
  • Bring a copy of your normal EKG.
  • Take contact information for manufacturers of pacemakers or implanted cardiac defibrillators (ICD).
  • Know the warning signs of a heart attack.

Extremely hot or cold destinations and high altitudes pose unique risks for heart patients.

If you've recently undergone any cardiac procedures, check with your doctor to see how long you should wait before traveling, which is usually two to three weeks.

Sources:

"Cold Weather and Cardiovascular Disease." americanheart.org. 2008. American Heart Association. 20 Nov. 2008. <http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4570>.



"High Altitude Sickness." americanheart.org. 2008. American Heart Association. 20 Nov. 2008. <http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4618>.



"Hot Weather and Cardiovascular Disease." americanheart.org. 2008. American Heart Association. 20 Nov. 2008. <http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4660>.



Kop, Willem, Ad Vingerhoets, Gert-Jan Kruithof, and John S. Gottdiener. "Risk Factors for Myocardial Infarction During Vacation Travel." American Psychosomatic Medicine 65(2003): 396-401. 20 Nov. 2008. <http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/cgi/content/full/65/3/396>.



Possick, Stephen, and Michele Barry. "Evaluation and Management of the Cardiovascular Patient Embarking on Air Travel." Annals of Internal Medicine 141:2(2004): 148-54. 20 Nov. 2008. <http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/abstract/141/2/148>.



"Vacation Health Care -- Overview." umm.edu. 28 May 2008. University of Maryland Medical Center. 20 Nov. 2008 <http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/001937.htm>.


LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Nancy Larson is a St. Louis-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in dozens of local and national print and online publications including CNN.com, The Weather Channel, Health magazine and The Advocate.

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