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Traveling with Chronic Conditions

Taking special care when traveling with chronic conditions

Chronic conditions should not keep people from enjoying travel. As with other medical conditions, people suffering from chronic diseases should see their doctor 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 people, 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 people may be advised against air travel by their doctor, depending on their individual medical condition.

Air travel for people with chronic conditions

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

People 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 nonalcoholic beverages when traveling.

People 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 and/or stretch your legs and arms at least once an hour.

  • Perform leg lifts several times an hour while sitting on the airplane.

  • Wear well-fitted or compression stockings.

  • Take low-dose aspirin, if advised by your doctor.

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