Heart failure

Travelling, holidays and trips away from home

Holidays and trips away from home may not be straightforward for people with heart failure. Many of those we talked to were worried that they might be taken ill or were anxious about managing their medication (especially diuretics) on long journeys.

Many people had chosen to take organised day trips or short holidays. Some found that coach trips were better for them than travelling by car, and several went on organised holidays where all the arrangements, including carrying luggage, were part of the package. A man who had been on an organised trip to Scotland said it was a wonderful experience because he had never expected to travel again.

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Others had taken to travelling with groups or clubs or went on holiday with their children who did the driving and looked after them. Some had given up active holidays like camping and caravanning, and a woman said she and her husband now stayed in hotels with lifts. Several people said they always asked for ground floor rooms and a few said they notified hotels about their heart condition.

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The bustle of airports or getting to and from holiday destinations put some people off travelling and holidays. One man said that just being at an airport could made him feel tense, and someone else who had taken up cruise holidays since being widowed said he wasn't sure how much longer he could manage to get himself and his luggage from Scotland to Dover.

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Travel arrangements sometimes needed to be carefully thought about in advance. One man was dismayed that his insurance company refused him medical cover because of his heart failure because it stopped him going to see his daughter in the US. Someone else whose luggage (containing his medication) was lost en route to Canada was surprised that he could not get a local doctor to prescribe replacement medication. (He now travels with medication and a list of contact numbers in his hand luggage).

A few people who had been taken ill on holiday said they had found it traumatic. A woman who had needed emergency treatment on two holidays in England said that she and her husband decided that for the time being going away from home was not worth the risk. Others had decided not to go abroad on holiday because they felt safer staying at home.

Several people had flown long distances since having heart failure, for example a woman who had travelled on her own to the US said that the airline had looked after her very well. On the other hand others wondered whether long flights were advisable, and a woman said doctors had told her not to take any flight lasting longer than 4 hours.

When travelling abroad, people fitted with a medical device are advised to avoid walking through security arches because these scanners contain a magnetic component which will set off the alarm. Instead, people should inform airport security about their ICD and show their ICD identification card. The person will then be hand searched. If during a search a hand-held scanner is used, the wand should not be held over the ICD/CRT as it can disable the medical device. 

In Europe, North America and Australasia, people with ICD devices can find hospitals in major towns and cities with ICD facilities. If travelling elsewhere and unsure of care facilities available, people can ask for advice at their regular ICD clinic before travel. If the person needs medical care when abroad, the UK hospitals can send relevant medical details to the hospital that is providing medical care. [From Patient Information Factsheet, Implantable cardioverter defibrillator, University Hospital Southampton, NHS Foundation Trust. December 2011.] 

At present, the remote monitoring terminals may not work in all countries outside the UK, so people who have their medical device checked via tele-monitoring and want to take the remote monitoring device on holiday should seek advice from their regular ICD clinic before they go. Similarly if they want to stop it while on holiday abroad they should get advice from their ICD clinic.

For more information about travelling with a heart condition see our resources.


Last reviewed April 2016.
Last updated April 2016.


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