The Medical Minute: Travel advice for those with chronic illness

HERSHEY, Pa. -- Many Americans with heart and circulatory system illnesses know how to manage their disease at home. But with “off season” pricing at popular vacation spots tempting us to get away for a while, it is important for everyone to consider their health while traveling, especially those traveling with a chronic illness.

Dr. Peter Alagona Jr. of Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute shares helpful hints for anyone who is traveling with heart disease in particular.

Reduce stress

Traveling can be a stressful experience -- at least until you reach your destination. But if you are living with heart disease, excess stress can be dangerous.

One way to reduce stress while traveling is to avoid restrictive or tight schedules, Alagona said. He suggested that travelers allow enough time to avoid feeling harried or rushed. This might be difficult at times, because you can’t control flight times, bad weather and just plain bad luck. However with careful planning, and patience, the chance this will happen can be reduced and inevitable stress can be avoided.

“You don’t want to worry about rushing around an airport, getting agitated and stressing your heart,” Alagona said, “so make sure you give yourself plenty of time.”

Prepare ahead of time

Sometimes things happen while traveling that you weren’t expecting. A flight is delayed, the weather isn’t as nice as you’d hope, or you lose your reservations. In terms of health care, Alagona urges travelers with heart disease to prepare for their illness ahead of time.

When traveling, all prescription labels should include exact name of the medication, your doctor’s name and the pharmacy name. Also, make sure you bring enough to last the duration of the trip plus a few extra in case you are stuck in an airport or otherwise gone longer than expected.

To prepare for a possible medical emergency, Alagona suggests that those who have significant chronic illnesses bring an updated copy of their recent medical record while traveling. “Make sure there is an explicit summary of recent procedures. If an emergency were to happen, this would be a great help to those who might have to care for you,” he said.

Move around

Traveling long distances in any form of vehicular transportation can be associated with increased risk of forming blood clots in your legs. “Every couple of hours, be sure to get up and walk around to stretch your legs and literally get the blood flowing,” Alagona said. “In addition, keep well hydrated. This will reduce the risk of clots forming.”

Traveling can be hectic at times until you reach your destination, but if you remember Alagona’s advice you can look forward to a vacation that is both relaxing and heart healthy.

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature brought to you by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of Penn State Hershey faculty physicians and staff and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

Up next week: What to do about the indoor allergens that can be a serious problem during fall and winter.

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Last Updated November 08, 2012