Travel tips from Dr Handford: Travelling with high blood pressure
High blood pressure shouldn't stop you going on holiday. With a little bit of planning, you can enjoy your trip and ensure your blood pressure remains well managed.
What is high blood pressure?
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, known as hypertension, you may be managing it with lifestyle modification, medication, or both. Your GP will want to check your blood pressure at least every year; more often if you have had recent changes to your medication, other health problems, or if it is not very well controlled.
The diagnosis of hypertension is made when your blood pressure is above 150/90 for a sustained period. Everyone’s blood pressure goes up beyond this measurement at times, and that is normal. It is only when your AVERAGE blood pressure is above this level that you may be advised to treat it with medication. This is why your GP may ask you to do several blood pressure readings over a few days at home, or wear a blood pressure monitor for a 24 hour period.
Having high blood pressure does not usually cause any symptoms at all. That is why your GP or practice nurse will check your blood pressure at random. Sometimes, if blood pressure goes up very rapidly, it can cause headaches or nosebleeds, but this is very rare. Most people are unaware they have high blood pressure until it is discovered during a routine check.
I’ve got well controlled high blood pressure. Can I travel by plane?
High blood pressure is not a barrier to travelling abroad, and there is no reason you cannot fly. If you have not had your blood pressure checked for over a year, it is worth seeing your GP or practice nurse for a blood pressure check prior to going away on holiday.
Do I need to tell my insurer?
Yes! Always make sure you are properly insured before travelling. It is important to let your insurer know if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, and which medications you take for it (if any).
Should I take my medication with me?
Yes, you should. Medication for high blood pressure is usually taken daily, and when travelling make sure you have enough medication to last for the duration of your trip. It is a good idea to take a copy of your prescription with you, in case your medication gets lost and you need to get some more from a local chemist or doctor. If your medication did get lost or damaged, missing it for a few days will not matter. Do not worry. A short break from medication will not cause a problem for you. Just make sure you restart your tablets when you can.
If you are travelling to a different time zone, try to adjust the time you take your medication accordingly. You might find it useful to set an alarm to remind you when to take it if you are in a different routine. If you want to keep taking it at the same time as you do at home, for example with breakfast, then that is fine. Just make sure you are not taking more than one dose within 24 hours. It is better to have slightly longer between doses than have two doses too close together.
Can I take part in all activities?
High blood pressure, if well controlled, is not a barrier to most activities. However, high adrenaline activities that involve a sudden change in pressure, such as bungy jumping, scuba diving or sky diving, should be avoided. Always check with the provider of the activity and make sure they are aware that you have high blood pressure. If they are unsure whether you should take part – DON’T. If there is any doubt, then there is NO DOUBT. Don’t risk it.
White water rafting, hiking, skiing, climbing, canoeing – all of these are fine to take part in. As are a whole host more activities. If you know what kinds of pursuits you will be involved in prior to heading off travelling, discuss them with your GP and check they are happy for you to take part.
More sedate activities can also affect blood pressure. If you are planning on using a hot tub, steam room, or sauna, you must take care to ensure you are well hydrated throughout. Being in very hot environments can lower your blood pressure, and when combined with blood pressure medications, this may make you feel dizzy or faint. Be careful to make sure you are with someone when using these kinds of facilities, do not spend more than 20 minutes at a time using them, and take care when moving around immediately afterwards.
Will my blood pressure medication affect me differently on holiday?
It might do! Some blood pressure medications work by dilating blood vessels – such as amlodipine and nifedipine. This means that you may notice some ankle swelling when taking them. This swelling may well be more noticeable when you are in a hot environment, and during and after flying.
Any ankle swelling should settle if you keep cool, elevate your legs, and keep mobile.
Other blood pressure tablets work by reducing the water in your system – they are called diuretics. These types of medicines include bendroflumethiazide, furosemide, ramipril (and all the ones ending in ‘pril’!). As a result, they can make you dehydrated when you are in a hot environment or if you become unwell with a vomiting or diarrhoea bug. Ensure you remain well hydrated with non-alcoholic drinks when travelling in a hot environment.
If you are vomiting or have diarrhoea, make sure you drink plenty of water and use an oral rehydration solution to replace the fluids you are losing. It is sensible to stop your blood pressure tablets for a few days until your symptoms clear up, then restart them when you are better.
Always consult your own doctor before travelling with high blood pressure
These travel tips are intended to provide general information to travellers with high blood pressure and do not replace a visit to your doctor . If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.
Take your blood pressure seriously on holiday, but don't let it hold you back. Keep taking your medication, stay well hydrated and you can enjoy your trip without any problems.
About Dr Ruth Handford
Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years' experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.
Important Information: These travel tips are intended to provide general information to travellers with high blood pressure and do not replace a visit to your doctor or diabetes nurse. If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have
Travel insurance for high blood pressure
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend that you have travel insurance in place every time you travel abroad. Make sure that your insurers are aware that you are have high blood pressure and ensure that your travel insurance covers your high blood pressure as well any other medical conditions you may have.