The World Health Organization estimates that 16.7 million people around the globe die of cardiovascular disease (CVD) each year. CVD respects no geographic, gender, or socioeconomic boundaries. It is now more common in India and China than in all economically developed countries combined, while remaining the leading cause of death in Europe. According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 81 million American adults (more than one in three) have one or more types of CVD.
The good news is that death rates from cardiovascular diseases are declining in some nations. In the US, for example, they fell by 29 percent between 1996 and 2006. The reasons are many and varied, including a growing awareness of prevention and the lifestyle modifications that stave off heart disease (such as moderating diet, increasing physical activity, and breaking the tobacco habit).
Why It Works for Medical Travel
Not all diagnoses involving the heart are emergencies. Many heart patients find they have options—and time to consider them. One heart patient recently had his aortic valve replaced at age 68. While he had been functioning well throughout his life with a congenitally malformed valve, his condition finally caught up with him. The valve calcified and would not open and close properly. His condition was serious, although not immediately life threatening. After his diagnosis, he had time to evaluate his budget and plan for his surgery. Because he was uninsured, he chose a US-board-certified surgeon at a JCI-accredited hospital in India to replace the valve. The procedure, including travel and lodging in India, cost him less than half what it would have cost at home.
Where to Go for Treatment
Cardiovascular surgery is well developed in all the major medical travel destinations, including Mexico, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, Turkey, Thailand, and Korea.
Medical travelers from the US and Canada are now enjoying increased opportunities for high-quality heart care in Mexico. A few years ago, Mexico had no JCI-accredited hospitals. It now has nine. North American health travelers no longer need travel long distances to find a highly skilled and qualified physician or surgeon practicing in a setting that meets JCI’s high standards. Colombia also offers choices in high-quality cardiovascular care, with large, specialized heart hospitals increasingly welcoming medical tourists in a safer travel environment.
Heart patients should also be very careful about planning their itineraries. Those with the most serious conditions may not want to undergo the rigors of a 14-hour flight to the other side of the world, accompanied by the inevitable jet lag that can make even normal tasks challenging for days afterward. A hospital closer to home—with a shorter travel time—may be just the ticket. Or, there’s always the option of arriving in country a few days early and taking a fun (though not too taxing) vacation before checking in for surgery. While that approach works well for some, worriers who might spend all their R&R time obsessed with pre-surgical anxiety may want to opt for treatment closer to home.
Your heart doctors at home and abroad need current test results. That means updating your blood work, as well as getting new stress tests and echocardiograms if you need them. Be sure to discuss your testing needs with medical personnel and keep your medical records current.
Be especially careful that you take the right medications at the right time and in the right amounts. Make sure that your hometown doctors and overseas doctors are communicating regularly and effectively. Don’t leave home without your prescriptions, and make sure you double- and triple-check your drugs and dosages with all the medical personnel who attend you at home and abroad.
You should also allow ample time for post-procedure recovery. Any surgical intervention increases the risk of blood clots, and long airplane flights increase the risk still further. The best treatment is prevention. Allow plenty of time to heal completely before hopping on a plane to return home.
Heart patients probably don’t need to hear this advice again, but we’ll repeat it anyway. Long-term survival rates are heavily influenced by lifestyle factors. That means maintaining a healthy weight, getting plenty of exercise, and avoiding tobacco. It’s a cliche but it’s true: take care of your heart and your heart will take care of you.