Heart disease doesn't need to stop you from cruising, but it's critical to plan and know your limits. Here's what you need to know about traveling with heart disease on a cruise.
Cover the basics with your doctor before you take your trip: Are you fit enough to travel? How much activity is too much? If traveling to a remote area, should you be concerned about the absence of access to medical care?
Generally, health practitioners say it's OK to travel two weeks after an uncomplicated heart attack or stent replacement. Some cruise lines require a letter from a physician on letterhead stating that a patient with a heart condition is fit to travel.
You'll also want a copy of your most recent EKG. If you have a pacemaker or an implanted cardiac defibrillator, get an ID card that says so, along with a letter from your doctor. Make a contact list that includes your doctor, family members and the manufacturers of any implanted devices. Pack an ample supply of meds in your carry-on bag.
People with implanted medical devices are considered to have what the TSA calls "hidden disabilities," and special regulations give guidance to both security personnel and travelers. In essence, the TSA recommends that people with pacemakers or implanted defibrillators carry documentation saying that they have them. Travelers should also show security officers exactly where the implants are located.
The TSA suggests these travelers request pat-down inspections rather than walk through metal detectors. A family member or traveling companion is permitted to be on-site during the public or private screening.
One of the biggest risks facing air travelers who have heart disease is the formation of blood clots in the veins of the leg, pelvis or arms while in flight. Flights longer than eight hours pose the highest risk. During flight, consider wearing below-the-knee compression stockings, avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water. Also, stretch your legs and walk around.
Ship life can be as active or relaxed as you want it to be -- within the limits set by your physician. "Ziplines, bungee jumping, scuba diving, swimming -- if it looks like something you should have talked about with your doctor and didn't, don't do it," advises cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg, director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health in New York City.
Also, watch what you eat and drink. "This isn't a license to go out and eat everything in sight. Some of my patients really gain weight on cruises. So make good food choices. Avoid high levels of salt. Get your sauces on the side," she says. "There's really no vacation from doing these healthy things for your heart."
Also, stay vigilant about symptoms: chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular pulse, lightheadedness or dizziness, unusual fatigue, swelling of the limbs, generalized feelings of illness and/or sharp back pain in the mid to lower quadrant. If needed, seek help immediately from the ship's doctor. If there is no medical unit (typical of river ships, for example), contact the front desk.
"People should have a good time on their trip," Dr. Goldberg says. "Vacation is a very healthy way to rejuvenate. You just need to pay attention to your heart."
For information about cruising with a different medical condition, see our articles on: