Traveling with a Pacemaker: Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Journey
Having a pacemaker does not have to slow you down. In fact, it is intended to do quite the opposite.
For those living with arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), their rapid heartbeat can be accompanied by fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and even fainting. A pacemaker regulates heart rate and rhythm, helping recipients improve their energy levels and physical stamina, so they can live a normal, healthy life filled with what they love. That includes traveling.
After receiving a pacemaker, it is natural to have concerns when it comes to traveling. But a pacemaker should not curtail your travel plans, unless your doctor advises otherwise. Here are some tips to keep in mind as a traveler with a pacemaker.
How to Travel with a Pacemaker
Safely traveling with a pacemaker all depends on when and how you are traveling, where you are traveling to, and what you will be doing when you get there.
If you are planning to travel within the first three months of your pacemaker implantation, your doctor may advise that you take it easy or even push back your travel plans, as the pacemaker works to regulate your heart rate and rhythm, and you build up your stamina.
Otherwise, you should have few travel restrictions because of your pacemaker. Riding in or driving a car, taking a cruise, or traveling by train or airplane should pose no issues to your device.
Besides your modes of transportation, consider the kinds of activities you have planned for your trip. Does your trip include physically demanding activities or those that could cause rough contact, pressure, or force on your pacemaker? Think activities like mountain climbing, skiing, hiking, intense cycling, SCUBA diving, ziplining, bungee jumping, or shooting a gun. If you are planning for any outdoor recreation or extreme sports on your trip, you should consult with your doctor first to see what they recommend or advise against. These types of physically demanding, high-impact activities could possibly be jarring and/or damaging to your device.
Besides direct impacts to the pacemaker, there may be concerns or precautions to take when participating in these kinds of activities because of your underlying heart condition. Even if you do not plan on skiing down a mountain or climbing up one, you may want to take precautions if you are traveling at extreme altitudes or temperatures, as high-altitude locations or very hot or cold climates may put extra strain on the heart. If an amusement park is on your itinerary, be sure to read any posted warning signs for “riders with heart problems” and follow the directives.
If you have concerns about how you will be traveling or any of the activities you have planned on your trip, it is good to consult with your doctor or even schedule a checkup before you go.
Traveling by Airplane with a Pacemaker
If you are planning to travel by airplane, you should have no cause for concern with the flight itself. However, there are some precautions you will want to take before you even make it to the gate.
Be sure to alert airport security, as a pacemaker may set off security scanners. You will also want to keep this in mind if you are planning on visiting any museums, concert halls, stadiums, or government buildings that may have you pass through a security scanner or metal detector.
You do not want to be the cause of a security scare, and you also do not want a scare with your pacemaker. Any devices emitting strong magnetic fields can disrupt the electrical signaling of your pacemaker and stop it from working properly. While full-body scanners are low risk and should not affect your pacemaker, hand-held scanners that are used close to the body could disrupt a pacemaker if used closer than six inches to the pacemaker for an extended period of time.
Be sure to have your pacemaker ID card with you as you travel and present it before going through any security checks.
Traveling with a Pacemaker Monitor
Depending on the type of pacemaker you have, you may also have a remote monitor— a transmitting device you plug in at home that wirelessly collects data and information from your implanted pacemaker and relays it to a cardiac monitoring center or healthcare provider. This monitoring ensures your device is working properly in regulating your heart rhythm.
If you have one of these monitors, you may be asking, “Should I take my pacemaker monitor with me when I travel?”
It depends on the type of device you have, the cadence of data transmission, and when and how monitors download the data. You should have a transmission schedule set up by your device monitoring team to know when and how often your monitor is relaying data information. If it has been three months since your pacemaker implantation and you are not on a daily transmission schedule, you may be able to leave your monitor at home, depending on the length of your trip. If you are planning to be traveling for more than 2 weeks, you may be advised to bring your monitor along.
Be sure your cardiac monitoring team and doctor are aware of your travel plans and see what they recommend. Depending on your device, you may have mobile monitoring options. Some newer pacemakers can connect to a smartphone app, rather than a home monitoring device, to send the remote monitoring transmissions and information. So as long as you do not lose your phone, your pacemaker can be monitored from anywhere you (and your phone) go.
Always Travel with Your Pacemaker ID Card
As a pacemaker recipient, the most important item to pack on your trip is your pacemaker identification card. Be sure you carry it with you at all times as you travel. This can alert security, medical, and emergency professionals that you have a pacemaker. You should have received your pacemaker ID card at the time of your implantation procedure. The ID card will list all the pertinent information about your pacemaker, including make, model, and programmed settings, as well as the date and hospital where your procedure took place and your doctor’s information.
All of this information can be critical in an emergency to ensure you receive the proper care. Want to be sure you have backup copies in case you lose your card? Download and print pacemaker ID cards from the American Heart Association.
Prepare to Enjoy Your Trip
The best way to ensure you have smooth travels and enjoy your trip is to be prepared and be aware. Make sure your healthcare providers and monitors are aware of your travel plans. Schedule a checkup with your doctor if necessary, so you have an appointment to ask any questions to ensure you are taking care of your pacemaker and your heart as you travel.
This includes making sure you have all of your prescriptions filled and packed. A vacation for you does not mean a vacation from your heart medications. If an emergency does arise while you are traveling, know where to go and that you are covered by checking with your insurance provider or getting sufficient travel insurance, especially if you are traveling overseas.