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Heart Rhythm Problems: How to Travel Safely

Topic Overview

It is safe for most people with arrhythmias, pacemakers, and ICDs to travel. Riding in a car, bus, train, boat, or plane is very unlikely to aggravate the arrhythmia.

But there are easy things you can do to travel safely and prepare for potential problems.

General travel tips

  • Always bring a supply of medicine that will last longer than the expected length of the trip. That way, if the trip is extended, you won't run out of medicine.
  • Bring a list of your medical conditions and an up-to-date list of your medicines (including dosages).
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet that identifies your condition.
  • Bring a list of the names and phone numbers of your doctors.
  • If you are traveling out of the country, take along the phone numbers and addresses of embassies in the areas you will visit. They can help you find a doctor or hospital.
  • Call 911 in the event of an emergency. If you are in a foreign country, learn the emergency number for that country.

For more tips, see the topic Travel Health.

If you have a pacemaker or ICD:

  • Ask your doctor what you should do if you receive a shock from your ICD while traveling.
  • Bring your cardiac device identification card with you. These cards are usually given to people after they first have the device put in. They contain information about the specific type of device that you have, when it was put in, and your doctor's name and phone number.

Airport security, pacemakers, and ICDs

It is not likely that the airport security systems will affect your pacemaker or ICD. These include the walk-through metal detectors, hand-held wands, or the full-body imaging scanners. But your device could set off a metal detector alarm.

If you have a cardiac device, follow these tips at airport security:

  • Before you pass through a metal detector, tell the security guards that you have a pacemaker or ICD, and show them your device identification card.
  • Walk through airport security or anti-theft gates at a normal pace. Also, don't stand near or lean against the gates or archway. These practices will lower the risk of temporary effects on your device from the screening equipment.
  • If you must be searched, ask the security guard for a hand search.
    • The handheld security wand should not be used, because it contains a strong magnet that can affect your pacemaker or ICD.
    • But if the handheld wand must be used, it should not be held over your pacemaker or ICD for a long period of time. The security guard should keep the wand at least 12 in. (30 cm) away from your pacemaker or ICD.
  • If your device sets off a security alarm, show your device ID card.
  • If you feel any symptoms when you are in the security area, move away from the equipment. Your device should go back to its normal function. Symptoms may include dizziness or a fast heart rate.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Last Revised June 12, 2013

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