Having arrhythmias or heart problems can feel pretty daunting when you’ve been recently diagnosed but rest assured that most conditions are treatable and allow you to continue living a normal life – which is comforting news.
In fact, most people with heart conditions should be fine to travel, just as long as they feel well and their GP agrees their condition is stable and under control, because the last thing you want is to run into any issues whilst you should be having a relaxing time on holiday.
What is arrhythmia?
Arrhythmia can take a few different forms. The most common type is atrial fibrillation (AF) where the heart beats irregularly and faster than normal. AF is typically seen more in older people or in those who are overweight or drink an excess of alcohol.
In comparison, another type of arrhythmia is supraventricular tachycardia which is where the patient has episodes of abnormally fast heart rate at rest – while bradycardia causes the heart to beat slower than normal.
The more serious arrhythmias include heart block. This causes the heart to beat much slower than normal and can cause people to collapse. Another variation is called ventricular fibrillation, which is a rare, disorganised rhythm of heartbeats that can lead to loss of consciousness and even death if not treated appropriately.
It’s important to ask for advice from your GP before you travel and ensure you are aware of likely triggers which can bring on arrhythmia. These triggers can include viral illnesses, alcohol, tobacco, exercise, caffeine and some prescribed or illegal recreational drugs.
Types of arrhythmia
While there are many people in the UK who suffer with arrhythmia – it’s important to bear in mind that there are actually many different types of the condition itself, as we touched on above.
Besides from atrial fibrillation, supraventricular tachycardia, bradycardia and ventricular fibrillation, there are other forms of arrhythmia to be aware of – both in adults and children.
However, the more common forms of arrhythmia can perhaps be broken down into:
Premature beats – which can feel like a fluttering in the chest.
Supraventricular arrhythmias – which are usually fast heart rates (including AF).
Ventricular arrhythmias – which start in the ventricles, which are the lower chambers of the heart. This can be deadly if not treated accordingly.
Bradyarrhythmias – this is when the heart rate is abnormally slower than it should be (60 beats per minute).
Preparing to travel with arrhythmia
When travelling with any pre-existing medical condition,
it’s important to plan ahead, make sure all your bases are covered and put some extra thought into the type of holiday, itinerary and destination you are considering. This may seem like a lot of extra things to add to your To Do List, but if anything should happen it’s better to be over, not under prepared.
So, let’s get to it. Firstly, those with arrhythmia may want to check their accommodation isn’t too remote, or at least within easy reach of medical facilities just in case of an emergency. Look up the local phone numbers and procedures for contacting emergency services as well as a local doctor – it’s likely you will enjoy your holiday without incident but having the right information on your phone or in a notebook will put your mind at ease.
Medication and treatment
If you are treating your arrhythmia with medication and plan on travelling with your medication, it’s important to keep an up-to-date list of what you are taking and when you need to take it, along with the original prescription and packaging. So should your medication go missing, you can find replacements with minimal fuss. Keep your medication on you whilst travelling – not zipped away in your checked-in luggage – and always pack extra in case of unforeseen circumstances such as a flight delay prolongs your journey.
As far as potentially more complex medications (like pacemakers and internal defibrillators) are concerned, you need to make special considerations if you are planning a trip abroad.
Things that might beep when you go through airport security, can be accounted for by your doctor. For example, your doctor can issue you with a pacemaker identification card, if needed.
Choosing a destination
Choosing a destination when you have arrhythmia is a pretty important decision. Your GP will be able to provide the best advice on what sort of trip is suitable for your specific condition, but there are a few general rules that ought to be taken into consideration when planning a trip with arrhythmia.
It is best to avoid destinations with extreme temperatures as very cold and very hot climates can put a strain on the way your heart works. It’s also a good idea to veto high altitudes (more than 2,000 metres) as the drop-in oxygen can contribute to breathlessness and angina.
Finally, if you are planning to go walking, consider how difficult the terrain is – some people ought to avoid areas that are too hilly, unless they are confident their level of fitness is up to scratch and they won’t get too out of breath.
Can you fly with heart arrhythmia?
Whilst people with arrhythmia are generally safe to fly, it is crucial to discuss your travel plans with your GP before you book. Those living with heart conditions may have an increased risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on a flight, so taking steps to reduce this risk could be critical.
Ways to avoid DVT when you’re on a flight include exercising the feet and ankles regularly, especially during a long flight and wearing specially designed compression stockings. Avoiding alcohol, drinking plenty of water and taking care of your health will also help you have a safe flight.
If you have previously been fitted with a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), remember to bring your device identification card with you and alert the security staff as you may set off the metal detector alarm.
Heart arrhythmia travel insurance
It is important that if you have a pre-existing medical condition to make sure you get the right travel insurance for you trip.
Not many places can offer specialist insurance for those with a pre-existing medical condition. But don’t worry, that’s where we come in to help with multiple providers that offer cover for pre-existing conditions.
Do I need to tell you about my heart arrhythmia?
Yes, the travel insurance providers we work with will want to know if you’ve ever had a heart condition, even if you no longer suffer from it and have made a full recovery. But don’t worry, when you tell us about the condition, we’ll ask you a few questions to help us understand your individual circumstances.
What does heart arrhythmia travel insurance cover?
You can usually expect a standard medical travel insurance policy to cover you for a number of benefits – including cancellation and ending your trip early, lost/stolen belongings, and medical expenses, but these policies will usually not cover anything related to your pre-existing health condition.
For those intending on travelling with arrhythmia, a specialist heart arrhythmia travel insurance policy might be a more sensible option. If your condition were to flare up before you go on holiday, and you are too unwell to travel, your arrhythmia will be included in your cancellation cover. Similarly, if your condition worsened whilst on your trip, and you needed medical treatment (or even brought home for treatment), your policy will be able to help cover your costs.
If you don’t tell your travel insurance provider about your condition, then it’s likely that your policy would be invalidated, especially if your claim was related to the pre-existing condition. This could leave you with some hefty bills to pick up.
How do I add arrhythmia to my policy?
It’s easy to add conditions to your quote, and better yet, it’s all online. After you’ve told us about where your trip details, we’ll ask if you, or anyone to be named on your policy has ever had any heart conditions. You’ll then be able to search for and add your heart related condition.
When you add your condition, we may ask you a few additional questions such as how your condition is managed, whether you are taking any medication and whether you’ve ever experienced certain symptoms. This is all to help us understand your condition better and build a picture of how it has impacted your health. We’ll then only show you quotes from providers, who can offer you specialist heart arrhythmia travel insurance policies, specific to your individual situation.