Traveling Timeline After Heart Surgery

Travel during the holiday season is expected to increase this year, up from the 93.3 million travelers who ventured at least 50 miles away from home this time last year, according to AAA. Although many medical professionals recommend avoiding traveling during recovery, it seems practically unavoidable during this family-centered season. However, just because you might be going against this advice, it doesn’t mean you should throw all caution to the wind. These tips break down some important considerations for traveling after heart surgery.

Traveling After Cardiac Surgery

Two weeks

The National Health Service recommends checking with your airline BEFORE flying, since companies have varying regulations on post-surgery travelers. However, the Civilian Aviation Authority says that 10 to 14 days is sufficient after chest surgery or a coronary artery bypass graft. After any heart operation, patients should remain moderately active to keep the heart pumping. Avoid tight clothing to prevent circulation inhibition as well.

During your early recovery, you’ll want to maintain only moderate activity at your destination. If your destination is the Midwest, consider staying at Wisconsin Dells resorts to take advantage of spas and other relaxation-enhancing amenities. In warmer weather conditions, swimming can also be a fun, light activity to stay active and cool.

Three months

At this point, you may be close to a full recovery but not quite there yet. (Hopefully, you will have taken my advice and attended a great cardiac rehab program.) Mostly, you’ll want to make sure to avoid overworking your heart. Get a full examination — BEFORE your trip — so your doctor can alert you of specific things to look out for. Taking medication like Dramamine isn’t recommended for flying, since you may sleep in a circulation-cutting position for an extended period of time. If you get nervous on airplanes or other forms of transportation, consider anti-anxiety medication instead, so you can keep your heart rate low without compromising your circulation.

Since being active can be difficult in an airplane, request to sit either in the very front or very back of the plane, so you can stretch your legs as often as possible. In the meantime, drink plenty of water, since the low humidity on planes increases the risk of dehydration.

Six months

Traveling itself may only come with minor considerations at this stage, such as staying hydrated and active. However, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your diet once you reach your destination. Especially during the holiday season, many people indulge in sugar-filled, high-fat foods. The American Heart Association recommends having less than 7 percent of saturated fat out of your total daily calories. Trans fats should comprise less than 1 percent of your daily intake, while cholesterol should never exceed 300 mg. The best way to reduce your saturated and trans fats intake is to reduce the amount of butter or margarine added to your food when cooking. Trim fat off of your meat or choose lean meats with under 10 percent fat to further cut back.

Right about this time… I traveled to Hawaii with Robyn, my wife, to celebrate my recovery. It was an amazing trip (see picture below).

Robyn (my wife) and I, Travel to Hawaii After Surgery

At 10 months post-op, I went on a two-week business trip through five cities in Europe. During the trip, I had some chest pain — from the lifting and the moving of luggage in awkward positions — so I carried a bottle of Ibuprofen with me at all times to help ease the discomfort.

One year

At the one year mark, many patients have reached full recovery status. Still, it’s always important to continue taking precautions when traveling. Make sure your travel insurance is up to date, since recent surgeries can often raise rates or lead to a higher copay. Access to medical care is highly important when you’re away from home, so feel free to check in with a doctor if anything feels abnormal.

I hope this timeline helps you plan your travel after heart surgery. If you have any travel tips for the other patients of our community, please click here to leave a comment.

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

  • Stuart

    My cardiologist (post endocarditis/surgery/MMVR) advised me to keep as active as possible so six months post op (this Jan) I found myself up a mountain with a snowboard strapped to my feet, no problems at all and I think my travel insurance was only about 1/3 more than my non-cyborg compadres. Off to the Alps again in two weeks and I mountain bike/rock climb pretty regularly, got back into those as quickly as I possibly could once I was back on my feet and after escaping 7 long weeks in hospital.

    Obviously everyone’s recovery is different but for me once I was healed and used to all the little life changes OHS brings, I just went for it and didn’t stop. I think it’s important to be careful but not wrap yourself in too much cotton wool but to find a happy medium between the reality of the individual situation, quality of life, maintaining/building cardio fitness and not letting a silly thing like open heart surgery stop you doing the things you love.

    Tick, tock!!

  • Chris Kline

    Adam has provided helpful information here.
    I travelled to Hawaii at 7 weeks post surgery and again at 12 weeks with no problems. On the first trip I could not carry or lift any luggage, but fortunately my husband was with me as my valet–although I did some pulling of luggage. I had to take pain medication to survive the trip. The worst fear was turbulence on the 5 1/2 hour plane trip, and luckily we had none.
    On the second trip, I was able to share the carrying but not the lifting and didn’t need any pain medication. However, my chest was sore afterwards.

  • Patricia

    Hi Adam,
    Scarcely 6 weeks after my surgery, my cardiologist allowed me to travel to the beach.
    I live in a city 7,200 ft. above sea level, so this trip was a real recovery: every day I woke up for my yoga session and slept more than 8 hours along the day.
    It couldn´t have been any better!
    I love to share in your blog.
    Yours, Patricia

  • Bill K (Australia)

    I had an Aortic valve replaced by means of the artery in my groin without the surgery.on Dec 11 2013
    Do the above comments on Travel apply ???

  • Robert Stoltz

    Hi,

    I had OHS on Oct 9, 2013. Aortic valve replacement, & repair tricuspid valve and mitral valve. Three coronary by-passes.

    My left leg is weak, I am working out on the treadmill-(one half hour at 3MPH) and one half hour on the bicycle. I am not breathing hard and would like to increase it. I do get fatigued, but feel I could do more, but I am afraid to as I know I am still healing. Is it OK to increase my workout time?
    How long will it be before I get back to feeling normal? How long will it be before I am completely recovered?

  • Ataman

    Very helpful entry by Adam and great comments. Thanks! I had my open heart surgery at the end of September. My first trip outside the city I live in was for Thanksgiving at the end of November, about 9-10 weeks after surgery. The second trip was for Christmas a month later. Both were relatively easy, short distance train trips. We were very careful with the weight and lifting restrictions so I only carried small bags or pulled on carry-on size luggage but no lifting. It’s actually surprising how much you can achieve by pulling or dragging if you plan and act strategically. And don’t be afraid to ask for help! “Sorry I can’t do that, I recently had surgery….” Immediately after the Christmas trip, we went to Turkey to visit family. The 10+ hour flight (roundtrip!) so twice) was intimidating but the transfer in Amsterdam helped to stretch and get some more circulation. You have to think about little things to make sure everything goes smoothly, like Adam’s comment about not taking Dramamine (which you might not think twice about if you had not had this surgery).

    Now almost four months after the surgery, I’m looking forward to future trips for business and pleasure and slightly anxious about starting to carry and lift luggage.

    For Robert: My first reaction is that you should speak to your cardiologist or other doctors before increasing your exercise time and intensity. It’s great that you’re feeling eager to increase them but check with the doctors first.

  • John Burke

    Late March 2014 aortic valve replacement, now 1 June 2014 and still short of breath. Stamford, CT hospital says it takes time. This is their only comment, so real solution.
    Wow, such an institution.

  • hala

    I had open heart surgery for valve reaseplesment in 8-13-2013 I want travel to overseas by airplane take 12 hours what recommend about that

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