Breath-holding causes a sudden increase in blood pressure. This is best avoided by some people with a heart condition, since it can place the heart and blood vessels under strain. We intentionally hold our breath when swimming under-water. However, we may also hold our breath without realising it, such as when we are stretching or lifting heavy objects. Playing some wind or brass instruments may also cause a large increase in blood pressure.
Make sure you check with your / your child’s cardiologist before taking up a wind/brass musical instrument or taking part in under-water activities.
Outdoor activities are becoming increasingly popular and some schools regularly organise trips to outdoor activity centres. Popular outdoor activities include: kayaking, rock-climbing, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, white-water rafting, hill walking and caving. Each planned activity must be considered separately and should be discussed with specialists in your cardiac centre before taking part.
Here are some key issues to think about and discuss:
- How physically demanding will the activity be?
If necessary could the activity be planned or adapted to make it easier for you/ your child to take part?
- How emotionally demanding will the activity be?
Outdoor pursuits can be very exciting. Of course this is part of what makes such activities fun. However, intense excitement or anxiety can cause a substantial increase in blood pressure and heart rate. For some people with a heart condition, particularly those with a rhythm disorder, such activities might not be safe.
- If you / your child is taking blood thinning/anticoagulant medication
Does the activity carry a high risk of cuts and scrapes? If so, can this risk be minimised with appropriate protective clothing?
- If you / your child has an ICD/pacemaker
You need to check if the activity is likely to cause pressure or impact to the device. For example, the climbing harnesses used at adventure centres often have a chest strap which may press against the area where the device is implanted. A similar problem may occur with rucksacks, which are often needed for hiking. Activities such as potholing or caving may involve crawling on your front, potentially putting pressure in the area around the device.
A common question asked by young people with a heart condition is whether they can go on fairground rides, such as rollercoasters. This is a very difficult question for healthcare professionals to answer because very little scientific research has been done in this area.
There are 2 main areas of concern:
- Intense excitement/anxiety can dramatically increase heart rate and blood pressure. This, in addition to the ride’s acceleration and rapid changes in direction, may place strain on the heart and blood vessels.
- Many fairground rides use powerful electromagnets. Strong electromagnetic fields can interfere with the functioning of ICDs/pacemakers. If you have been fitted with one of these devices then it is probably wise to avoid most fairground rides.
Most theme parks have notice boards at the entrance to rides, listing the medical conditions that prevent people from taking the ride. If the notice states that the ride is unsuitable for people with a heart condition then you should follow this advice.