Traveling With Chronic Conditions

Taking special care when traveling with chronic conditions:

Chronic conditions should not keep persons from enjoying travel. As with other medical conditions, people suffering from chronic diseases should see their physician as early as possible before traveling and discuss any risks that may be involved, as well as plan for immunizations, medication, and other medical devices that may be needed before or during the period of travel.

Air travel may pose certain risks for certain persons, including those with cardiac failure, recent myocardial infarction (heart attack) or stroke, angina (chest pain) at rest, heart rate or rhythm disorders, uncontrolled arterial hypertension, severe anemia, sickle-cell anemia, acute mental disorders, epilepsy, and any serious or contagious diseases. These persons may be advised against air travel by their physician, depending on their individual medical condition.

Air travel for persons with chronic conditions:

Jets now travel much higher and with decreased oxygen levels in the cabin. Healthy persons rarely notice this decrease in oxygen while traveling by air; however, in persons with certain heart and lung conditions, this could be dangerous.

Persons with certain heart diseases that result in reduced blood levels of oxygen were once warned against air travel, but recent studies have shown that if certain precautions are taken, there is no additional risk to these patients, as was once thought. Experts advise that patients with these conditions travel with a companion familiar with their condition, who can also assist with baggage and ground transportation. It is also important to drink ample amounts of non-alcoholic beverages when traveling.

Persons with circulatory problems can experience swollen legs and other discomfort on longer flights. Blood clots can also form after prolonged sitting. To help minimize these risks, you should:

  • take walks every hour or two.
  • perform leg lifts several times an hour while sitting on the airplane.
  • wear elastic, or compression stockings.
  • take low-dose aspirin, if advised by your physician.

It is especially important for persons with chronic conditions to obtain information on medical facilities available in other countries, as well as names of physicians to contact in case of an emergency. Be sure to also check with your health insurance company regarding your coverage while abroad.

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