Travelling with a Pacemaker or Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) can be an overwhelming experience, especially the first time. Though being prepared and taking the right steps can not only make your trip more enjoyable but will put you and everyone else at ease. You can never be too careful in those moments when every second counts and accessing your records or contacting relevant people is vital.
Knowing things like who to contact in an emergency, having the correct papers, knowing your limits, to carrying the correct equipment will become a part of your everyday travelling agenda. However, this does not have to be overwhelming if you take the right steps in researching and preparing for travel with your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD).
Steps I took before flying with a pacemaker and defibrillator (ICD)
I flew to Australia 5 weeks after I had my pacemaker and defibrillator (ICD) inserted to recover and spend time with my family. As well as having a new foreign object inside my body, I was also diagnosed with a rare heart condition called Cardiac Sarcoidosis and a clot to make things even more complicated.
To be honest, I was scared, I had so many questions before I flew and I just didn’t know where to start looking for answers. Like, can a person with a pacemaker go through airport security or how soon can l fly after pacemaker insertion.
Here are some of the steps that I took before travelling with my pacemaker and defibrillator (ICD), I hope that it helps you in your travels.
Table of Contents
- Steps I took before flying with a pacemaker and defibrillator (ICD)
- How soon can I fly after having my pacemaker or Defibrillator ICD inserted?
- Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD) identification card
- Obtain a Medical Alert Necklace or Wrist band while travelling
- Travel Insurance for your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD)
- How to book a flight with pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD)
- What to do at the Airport with your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD)
- Top Tips for travelling with Pacemaker and Defibrillator (ICD)
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How soon can I fly after having my pacemaker or Defibrillator ICD inserted?
They say it is best to wait an appropriate time before you start travelling or flying after implantation of your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD). However, they usually say between 6 months to 1 year but it really depends on the individual and their case. Best to consult with your doctor and have clearance before booking any type of travel or flights.
As stated earlier, I flew 5 weeks after having my pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD) but my body had accepted well to the insertion and I healed quickly where the cut was made. One of the terms from my UK specialist before flying was that I needed to consult my local doctor for check ups while I was in Australia.
Questions to ask your Doctor before flying with your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD)
- Verify with your doctor that the underlying heart condition does not pose a risk for flying.
- Check if there is any equipment you need to take on the Plane, like the magnet to stop the ICD.
- Ask about your ID Card which you may need to show at the airport.
- See if you need to wear Compression stockings used after surgery to prevent blood clots
- Ask your doctor if your pacemaker contains any metal. Some versions do not contain metal, and they will not cause any trouble if you choose to travel through airport security screening areas.
- Ask the doctor if there are any activities that you should avoid on your trip.
Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD) identification card
Make sure you have your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD) identification card with you before you travel. This should be given to you after your operation (insertion). If you don’t know where it is or do not think you have one, you can ask your pacemaker clinic for a copy of your ID, as it should be on your file.
What is a Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD) identification card?
A Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD) identification card is an ID card that states all relevant information regarding your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD). It lists information from the type of leads you have, the date of implantation, hospital where it was implanted to the doctor who operated. It should even have some of your personal details like your DOB and contact number for your hospital.
The ID card can also be known as the Medical Device ID Card, depending on the country you are from. Your ID card will let the relevant people and the security officials at the airport know that you have a Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD) within your body. It will also help others know your situation in an emergency.
Obtain a Medical Alert Necklace or Wrist band while travelling
In an emergency, the simple addition of a Medical Alert necklace or bracelet can save your life, especially if you have a Defibrillator (ICD). Medical Alert ID bands give both relevant people who you are with and the medical professional crucial knowledge of your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD) insertion and what the problem may be and how to treat you.
Medical Alert Necklace or Wrist band is not a compulsory item but are definitely a great addition. These days they are made very creative and look more like a fashion accessory that a medical ID. Most feature the international medical symbol caduceus, the image of a staff with two snakes, and open or turn to reveal securely concealed medical identification.
I have a medical alert ID wrist band that states my Cardiac Sarcoidosis condition, Pacemaker and Defibrillator (ICD) on the front and on the back I have my husband’s international number to contact in an emergency.
- Let people know straight away about your Medical Alert Necklace or Wrist band when you are travelling and what to point out to medical assistance in an emergency.
Travel Insurance for your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD)
Obtaining travel insurance for your pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD) is definitely a great idea, especially if you are travelling to a foreign country that you have not been to before. It will not only give you peace of mind but also the people who you are travelling with too.
Currently, I obtain travel insurance as and when I travel as I am not covered under my annual policy anymore due to my medication and situation. Each trip for me is a case by case situation, so it is easier doing it this way until my circumstances change, like the dosages of the medication.
If you already have travel Insurance
If you already have travel insurance before your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD) was implanted, you will need to contact your insurer and let them know your situation. The travel insurer should let you know if you are still covered, update your policy and let you know if you have to pay an additional fee.
If you do not have already have travel insurance
It is important that you are covered when you are travelling and worth the research finding the right travel insurance company for you. Beware though that you may need to pay more to have travel insurance with a pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD) and there are insurance companies that don’t cover them. However, there is travel insurance that does specify cover people with pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD).
Tips for pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD) insurance coverage
- Ask if the country you want to travel is covered under your travel insurance.
- Print out a copy of your Travel Insurance and keep it on yourself and send a copy to your next of kin.
- Check with your pacemaker clinic, the heart foundation website or the brochures from your doctor for recommended insurance companies.
How to book a flight with pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD)
Register as disabled person when you fly (Optional)
Registering as a disabled person when booking your ticket is an option and something that you do not have to do. Though it is a good idea because you are informing and making the airline company aware of your situation. If something happens on the plane then they can be prepared in advance and you can be at ease. It is always better to be prepared.
I did not register before I flew to Australia because I needed to email the airline in advance of my condition and have clearance with my medication. So they were already aware that I had a pacemaker and a defibrillator (ICD) inserted.
If you don’t register as a disabled person when you fly
If you decide not to register as a disabled person or there is no option on the booking site, then you can let the airline know when checking in your bags.
This is a good idea also when you are travelling a long distance by train or boat, as well.
Tips for booking your flight with a pacemaker and a defibrillator (ICD)
- You can always email the airline with your details before you fly or speak to them
- If you check in online and are only taking carry on, make the flight attendant aware when you board the plane.
What to do at the Airport with your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD)
Going to the airport and checking in becomes a whole new experience when you have a pacemaker or a defibrillator (ICD). You have to make sure airport security are aware so you don’t set the alarms off or the scanner interferes with your device. Let the airline who your flying with know and also make sure you have all the required equipment.
Checking into your flight with your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD)
When you are checking into your flight make the staff aware of your pacemaker or a defibrillator (ICD), so they can make a note of your details. This is not compulsory but it makes the airline prepared and aware of your situation in case of an emergency. I also found the staff to be more attentive when I got on the plane like fill my water bottle as soon as I got onto the flight and checked to make sure that I was comfortable.
Let the airport security know you have a pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD)
You will have to let the airport security know you have a pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD) and in some cases have to show your ID card before you go through. As they will likely need to take you either to a different area for scanning, walk you around the scanner or be hand-searched by security staff or checked with a hand-held metal detector.
There are two reasons why this needs to be done, one is because it can (there are reports) interfere with your pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD) and the other it can set the security alarms off (rare but can happen). It is important to follow the protocol according to unseen disabilities.
Don’t worry though because when you advise most security staff about your pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD) at the airport they will guide you through the process.
Can you go through a metal detector with a pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD)
Depending on the country of the airport will depend on whether you can go through a metal detector with a pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD). However, most scanners are safe that I am aware of but definitely do more research or ask questions if you are concerned or not sure. I am definitely no medical expert so double check if need be, better to be safe than sorry.
Do not stand in an electronic metal detector
My understanding is that you should not stand in an electronic metal detector gate for more than 15 seconds, as it interrupts your pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD). I have read this a couple of times and to be honest, I just walk straight through without stopping, like most people do. I don’t want to test this theory to see if it’s correct.
- Be aware that your pacemaker may set off retail or library security screening gates as well.
Top Tips for travelling with Pacemaker and Defibrillator (ICD)
- If you are wanting to drive while away travelling, check with your doctor if it is possible. It’s recommended you wait for at least a month but it is a case by case situation.
- Let your doctor know in advance if you already had travel plans booked before your surgery. As you may have to cancel your trip.
- Obtain a list of places that your pacemaker can be repaired while you are travelling. The maker of your device should have information on their website with addresses to the local hospitals or doctors’ offices that can help you repair the pacemaker if needed.
Thank you for reading this article ‘Travelling with a Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD)’. I hope it helped answer some of your questions about travelling with a Pacemaker and Defibrillator (ICD) and what steps to take.
Do you have a Pacemaker and Defibrillator (ICD) and travel? Is there something that I should add to the above list? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below or let me know what I can add to the list to help others.
Disclaimer: All views are based on my own experience and research with my own Pacemaker and Defibrillator (ICD) while travelling.