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I have atrial fibrillation and I’m always afraid to travel or go on a family vacation for fear of having an afib episode. How do I get over this fear?
I totally understand the fear and anxiety that comes with traveling with atrial fibrillation. Michelle you are not alone! Most of the afibbers I talk to or get emails from don’t enjoy traveling and they get very anxious about it.
Don’t let fear and anxiety prevent you from having fun when traveling and vacationing with your family! The best way to overcome fear and anxiety when traveling with afib is to prepare and educate yourself. The more you know, the more calm, relaxed, and confident you’ll be.
Following are 15+ practical tips for worry-free travel with afib. I know this is an exhaustive list and it might even discourage you even more from traveling because it looks like too much effort to travel with afib, but I assure you most of these tips are common sense. The handful of tips you’re not aware of will 8be super easy to put into action and will take very little effort. The few that might take a little effort will only need to be done once so any future trips you take everything will be covered.
Without further ado, let’s dive in…
Have Your Medications Ready to Go
If you’re taking medications to manage your afib or any other health condition get them organized and ready to go for your trip. I also recommend you bring more medication than you think you’ll need just in case you lose or if for some reason you end up needing more than you expected.
If you’re going to be flying or taking a train or ship where you may need to check bags be sure to keep your medications in your carry-on bag if possible. If you have liquid medications or large containers of meds you may not be able to put them on your carry-on so know that ahead of time so you can plan accordingly. If your meds come in large containers break them down into smaller containers or even zip lock plastic bags
Have Your Supplements Ready to Go
The same rules apply here as medications. Get all your supplements together and ideally pack them in your carry on – or at least a day or two worth of supplements in your carry on. The rest can go in your checked baggage as supplements usually aren’t as mission critical as medications are if your luggage were to get lost.
BONUS TIP: If it’s possible and is less stressful for you, consider shipping your medications and supplements to your destination. This way you don’t have to deal with them at all. You ship them in advance and they’ll be waiting for you when you arrive!
Talk to Your Doctor if Your Health Situation Warrants It
If you have paroxysmal afib and it’s reasonably managed, you probably don’t need to talk to your doctor before you travel or go on a vacation. If, however, you have persistent afib or a more complex health situation (i.e. you have a pacemaker or ICD), by all means make an appointment with your doctor before you leave to express any concerns you have about traveling. Your doctor will be able to provide guidance on what you should or shouldn’t do and will help you come up with a general game plan.
Summarize Your Health Situation and Doctor Contact Info
Many of the articles that you read online about traveling with afib tell you to bring copies of your medical history with you. This is overkill. If I did this I’d need a separate suitcase just for my medical history!
Chances are great that you’re not going to have any issues when you travel anyway (remember think positive!) and if you do you’re not going to need your entire medical history. Trust me, the E.R. doc isn’t going to have the time or interest in digesting your 10+ year history with afib!
All you need to do is put together a simple one-page document that summarizes your RECENT health history – specifically the past year. This document only needs the following:
- A summary of your current health situation
- Your doctor’s name and number and place of practice
- List of any medications you’re taking
- Info on any medical devices – implantable heart monitor, pacemaker, icd, etc.
You just want to be able to hand the doctor a simple document that provides him or her a quick overview of things so they can give you the appropriate treatment in a timely manner.
BONUS TIP: Approach doctors and their staff with authority! You tell them how you want to be treated. The more control you can take of the situation the better and faster care you’ll get. (Example: The last cardioversion I had I went to the E.R. and told them I needed a cardioversion. I didn’t waffle or let them try to figure out what treatment I needed.)
Don’t Forget Your Medical ID Bracelet, Necklace, or Card
If you’re taking a blood thinner or have a pace maker or ICD, be sure to where a medical ID bracelet, necklace or have a medical ID card in your wallet or purse. If you have a complex health situation that requires a lot of information, consider investing in a medical ID bracelet with USB storage or NFC. A medical ID watch is also another good option.
Know Your Destination
If it helps you feel better, know in advance where the best hospitals are where you’ll be going. Jot down the name, address, and phone numbers of those hospitals. And if you’re really anxious, map them out so you have a general idea where they are relative to where you’ll be staying, how long it takes to get to them, etc.
If you’re going on a cruise, you may want to inquire as to what kind of medical resources they have on board.
Consider Prescriptions and/or Supplements to Ease Anxiety
A lot of people get anxious about traveling or vacationing whether they have afib or not but anxiety can especially be an issue for a person traveling with afib. And as many of us afibbers know, anxiety can easily bring on an afib episode so whatever we can do to avoid anxiety is a good thing.
To help ease anxiety it never hurts to get a little help from the doctor. I’m talking prescription drugs here. Ask your doctor about lorazepam or Xanax. These are two very popular anti-anxiety drugs among the more anxious afibbers, myself included. I personally take lorazepam “as needed” for anxiety or sleep and I always take it with me when I travel – especially when I fly.
If you don’t like the idea of taking drugs and want a more natural approach to treating anxiety, consider chewable pharma gabba tablets like these (I take 200mg, or two tablets at a time):
And chewable Suntheanine tablets like these (I also take 200mg, or two tablets at a time):
Magnesium can help alleviate anxiety as well.
BONUS TIP: If you’re new to any of these anti-anxiety drugs or supplements, be sure to test them at home once or twice before you go on your trip to see how you respond to them!
Have a Game Plan
Rehearse in your mind what you’re going to do if you have an afib episode. This was always easy for me. Here was my game plan.
- Get back to my hotel, vacation house, etc. and rest and relax
- Pop my flecainide (pill-in-the-pocket)
- Pop an Eliquis (anticoagulant)
- Take my magnesium (at least 500mg)
- Contact my support team (for me that’s Shannon), your doctor, etc.
- Wait 6-8 hours
- Go to the hospital (from the list of hospitals I prepared ahead of time) for a cardioversion
BONUS TIP: If you have paroxysmal afib and aren’t on any medications, talk to your doctor about pill-in-the-pocket. This one tip could be a HUGE confidence builder for you when traveling with atrial fibrillation! Whether you’re doing pill-in-the-pocket or not, put together an “emergency kit” that you can carry with you at all times. This “kit” could be as simple as a small plastic bag. In the bag have at least 200mg of magnesium glycinate (typically 2 tablets), 1-2 potassium tablets (99mg or 198mg of potassium), and then your pill-in-the-pocket medication. If you’re away from your hotel room, vacation house, etc. and you go into afib, you can crack open the emergency kit!
Dehydration can be a trigger for atrial fibrillation so stay well hydrated. Drink plenty of water. The air in a plane is very dry so you want to make sure you especially drink plenty of water when flying. Of course it goes without saying that if you’ll be vacationing in a warm-weather destination drink plenty of water!
Avoid Alcohol, Coffee, and Caffeine
Alcohol, coffee, and caffeine are all diuretics (causes you to pee) which can dehydrate you if you’re not drinking enough water. Do your best to avoid these at least when you’re flying but if you absolutely must have a cocktail on the plane (I’m guilty of that myself) then counter it with enough water.
During your vacation you’ll just want to take it easy drinking alcohol, coffee or caffeine. And when you do drink these beverages be sure you’re getting an equal amount or more of water to counter the diuretic effects of these types of drinks.
Sitting in a car or airplane for hours on end can put even a healthy person at risk of developing blood clots but it’s even more of a risk for people with atrial fibrillation! Be sure to get up and move around periodically (about every 30-45 minutes if possible). If you’re drinking plenty of water you’ll likely need a bathroom break or two while on the flight so that’s a bonus. If you’re driving by car, stop periodically and get out and stretch and walk around a little bit.
BONUS TIP: If you’re in a situation where you can’t physically get up and walk around at least move your legs. Shift your sitting positions regularly. Tighten your leg muscles for a few seconds and then release them.
Be sure you’re sitting with both feet on the ground and avoid crossing your legs for extended periods of time. If you sit with your legs crossed for more than 15 minutes at a time your blood pressure can increase (can potentially trigger an afib episode) and your veins can become compressed which increases your risk even more of forming a blood clot.
Finally, if you have poor circulation to begin with consider wearing support stockings if you’re going to be sitting for prolonged periods of time. These compression stockings can help improve blood flow and prevent clots and swelling of the legs.
Know Your Afib Triggers
Does chocolate trigger your afib episodes? Does alcohol set them off? If you know you have specific triggers then it goes without saying avoid them like the plague when you’re traveling! This may seem like an obvious thing to point out but when we’re in vacation mode it’s so easy to be tempted to let common sense fly out the window. After all, who doesn’t want a frozen margarita when chilling on the beach under the warm sun? I’m thirsty even thinking about it but don’t give in if you know alcohol is a trigger!
Be Careful of Certain Over-the-Counter Medications
For some people with atrial fibrillation, over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines and decongestant cough medicines can trigger episodes. If you come down with a cold when you’re traveling be aware of this!
Get Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep can definitely make the heart jumpy and make you more prone to afib episodes. Most of us go on vacations to relax and sleep in but usually just the opposite happens – especially if you’re traveling or vacationing with kids! We usually end up sleeping less but try your best to get at least as much sleep as you do at home.
Be Careful of Excessive Heat and Physical Exhaustion
Excessive heat and physical exhaustion can dehydrate you. As I mentioned earlier, dehydration can trigger afib episodes. If you’re going to be “under the sun” a lot or will be doing a lot of physical activities be sure to drink plenty of water. Try to plan your more physically demanding activities early in the morning or later in the afternoon if you’re in a warm weather destination.
Watch What You Eat and Don’t Overeat
Some foods may trigger your afib. As mentioned earlier, be aware of those triggers. Overeating can cause bloating and indigestion which can be triggers for afib. It’s so easy to overindulge when we’re traveling or vacationing but resist the temptation.
BONUS TIP: Whenever I go on vacation I always bring digestive enzymes and DGL with me. Like most vacationers, even though I try not to overindulge there are times when I just can’t resist. In my moments of weakness I’ll pop digestive enzymes to help prevent indigestion and bloating. I take Digestive Gold enzymes by Enzymedica. They are not cheap but they are the best enzymes on the market and they work.
And for indigestion and stomach aches, I’ll chew on DGL tablets by Enzymatic Therapy. They work like magic!
Be Aware of Your Altitude
There are two potential concerns for people with atrial fibrillation traveling to high altitude locations such as Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Air has less oxygen the higher you go. Your heart has to work harder to deliver air to the body. This may not bode well for some afibbers – especially those that may have heart failure along with their afib. High altitudes may make you more symptomatic or trigger your afib.
The other concern with high-level altitudes is dehydration. You are at a much greater risk. The humidity is lower at higher altitudes so sweat evaporates quickly. The thinner air makes you breathe in and out faster so you lose even more water through respiration. If you’ll be vacationing at a high altitude destination drink plenty of water!
BONUS TIP: I have stressed throughout this article to drink plenty of water but how much is enough? This is easy. Check your urine. If it’s more dark than clear, you are dehydrated. You want to drink enough water until your urine is a light or pale yellow color (a pale colored lemonade or a light straw color).
These 15+ tips will hopefully help anyone with atrial fibrillation travel and vacation with more confidence and less stress and anxiety!
What tips and strategies do you recommend when traveling or vacationing with atrial fibrillation? Please share them in the comments below!
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What a great article! Docs treating afib don’t know all of this. I have learned more about living with afib from you than I have from any medical person. Thank you, thank you.
Thank you. I appreciate your kinds words.
Great tips. The first time I flew I asked doc for an RX for tranquilizer (xanax). I didn’t need to use it but it helped knowing I had it. The more I reach beyond my comfort zones, the easier it gets. And it’s been 2 years now since I was diagnosed with PAF. It’s not as scary now.
Thanks for sharing your comments! I’m the same way. I always fly with lorazepam but I never actually use it. Like you said, just knowing I have it keeps me calm and relaxed. Take care!
Lou, as someone who loves to travel, especially out of the country on cruises, I’m so glad to find out that it becomes less scary. When I had the first episode, most of my grief was over the thought that I would no longer be able to travel. This is a great article! I’m so glad you mentioned the pill-in-the-pocket. The one you mentioned is a chemical cardioversion drug, right?
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