Over 40,000 pacemakers are fitted in the UK each year and in addition to this several thousand operations to insert an implantable defibrillator are carried out. There is no reason with pacemakers and defibrillators fitted you can’t still enjoy a holiday and this includes overseas travel. However, there are some other measures you need to take when travelling with one of these cardiac devices in place. These will take a little extra planning, but make sure that your trip goes smoothly and that you are prepared if you encounter any difficulties while you are away.
Preparing to Travel with Pacemakers and Defibrillators
When you arrange your travel insurance, it is important to tell your insurance provider that you have a pacemaker or a defibrillator in place. This may affect your travel insurance premium, just as many other medical conditions and procedures do, but it is essential that you have the right cover in case you need to seek medical attention when travelling overseas; otherwise your insurance policy isn’t valid. You will, however, find plenty of insurance providers willing to offer cover for people wishing to travel with pacemakers and defibrillators in place, though they may ask for a doctor’s confirmation that you are fit for travel.
You should also tell your doctor of your intended travel so that they can issue a letter explaining your medical history and that you have a cardiac device fitted. When away you should keep this letter on you at all times, as this is helpful if you need to get medical help during your trip. Equally, it is important to make sure that you have enough medication with you during your holiday, as it can be more difficult to access prescription medication abroad.
If you are contemplating any different activities than normal while you are away, you should also discuss these with your doctor before you go, as they will recommend whether your chosen exercise is suitable given your own circumstances.
Lastly, before you travel, you should find out where the nearest doctor’s practice, emergency department and cardiac centre are to your destination, so that if you need them, you know exactly where to contact or go to.
Air Travel with Pacemakers and Defibrillators
Travel by car, bus or train on your holiday is no different that if you didn’t have a cardiac implant in place. However, while you can safely fly with cardiac devices in place, you should be aware of the suitable procedure when passing through airport security. This is because Security systems, such as body scanners and metal detectors, emit radiation, which in theory could interfere with pacemakers and defibrillators. In reality though, the risks are tiny, as the high frequency waves generated by these security devices are reflected by your skin rather than entering your body. Therefore according to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, there is no evidence that you can’t use airport security with cardiac devices. They do issue this advice though:
- With pacemakers and defibrillators in place, you should carry your registration card and show it to staff when moving through airport security, as this outlines details of your particular device. You should always tell them about your implant before entering the scanner, as your device will set off their security alarm.
- Walk through body scanners normally and don’t linger within the detection area.
- When screening wands are used, there should be a 6 inch gap between the wand and your device, so you may wish to politely remind security staff of this. Although you may wish to be checked by hand, there is no problem unless the wand passes too close to your cardiac implant.
- While being airborne doesn’t pose a greater risk of cardiac implant interference, you should remember that during the flight you are often closer to wireless technology than under normal circumstances. However, most modern devices are well protected from interference.
- For specific information about travelling with your own pacemaker or defibrillator, you should contact your doctor or the manufacturer of your device.
As some sites of interest you visit while you are away, such as museums and galleries, may also have security devices in place, you should bear the above in mind when visiting those too.