Driving with a disability can be a scary thing, especially if the health condition causing the disability is new. Those with a new or chronic heart condition might be wondering if they can drive at all. The good news is that, yes, if you have a heart condition you are still eligible to drive a car. Of course, there are some exceptions to that rule.

For example, if you had a heart attack recently, you should wait at least four weeks before driving again. Heart surgeries, such as angioplasty, may also require you to take a temporary leave from driving. But when you do get cleared to get back on the road, you might be wondering if there is anything you can do to make driving safer for yourself and for other drivers. If you have a heart condition, keeping the following tips in mind will keep you, your passengers, and other drivers safe while you maintain your freedom to operate your vehicle.

What conditions are considered cardiovascular disease?

The cardiovascular system is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body. It consists of the heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries. The heart pumps the blood and the blood vessels transport it. When the cardiovascular system isn’t functioning as it should, it is referred to as cardiovascular disease.

person holding hands to chest
Image by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash: Can I still drive if I have angina?

There are several illnesses that are considered cardiovascular, including:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms, also referred to as arrhythmias
  • Angina, which is chest pain
  • Aorta disease or Marfan syndrome
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Coronary artery disease, which is the narrowing of the arteries
  • Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, which are blood clot diseases
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Heart muscle disease
  • Heart valve disease
  • Pericardial disease
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Rhematic heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Vascular or blood vessel disease

All of these diseases affect the cardiovascular system, even if they present with different obstacles and symptoms.

What heart conditions can you not drive with?

In some cases, people with heart conditions will be asked to refrain from driving. This could be permanent or temporary, depending on the type of illness it is. As mentioned above, some conditions such as heart attack or heart surgery will require a temporary suspension from driving.

One heart condition that could cause a person to have to give up driving altogether is Long QT syndrome, which is a heart rhythm disorder that can lead to fainting, seizures, and severe heart palpitations. Because this condition can cause a person to lose consciousness, it is not recommended that they continue driving. Other heart conditions that can lead to fainting will also put someone on the no-drive list for a minimum of six months.

Tips on how to drive safely with a heart condition

Some heart conditions are manageable, and thus allow people to continue driving. There are some tips that people should take stock of, though, if they have a heart condition and want to stay on the road.

1. Keep Your Stress Down

Stress is a huge contributor to health conditions across the board, but even more so when it comes to cardiovascular conditions. Bouts of high stress can cause even healthy hearts to malfunction. For those with heart conditions, being highly stressed will raise blood pressure, which can exacerbate your condition. If you are highly stressed and emotional, you should avoid driving until you have calmed down. If you find yourself in a stressful situation behind the wheel, the best thing you can do is pull over and wait for the stress to pass.

2. Avoid Long Drives or Make Proper Pitstops

Sitting for long periods of time can do a number on the heart. This is because it puts stress on the body’s circulatory abilities and can lead to worsened symptoms of heart disease. If you do have to take a long trip, the best way to do it and avoid exacerbating symptoms of your condition is by ensuring that you stop frequently to get out and stretch your legs, take a short walk, and get your blood pumping.

happy man in car
Image by Omatayo on Unsplash: Can you still drive with a heart condition?

3. Don’t Drive If You Haven’t Slept Properly

Getting adequate sleep is important for all people, but it’s especially true if you have a heart condition. Not getting enough sleep can lead to a rise in blood pressure that could make symptoms of your condition worsen. If you haven’t had enough sleep, you should avoid driving until you’re well rested.

4. Avoid Driving If You Have Active Symptoms

Active symptoms such as dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, and numbness in the legs or arms can all become distracting while you’re driving. If you are having active symptoms, you should avoid driving until they have subsided.

Many heart conditions are manageable with medications and lifestyle changes and will not require you to lose your ability to drive. If you do have a heart condition and have been cleared for driving by your doctor, the number one thing you need to pay attention to when it comes to road safety is how you feel, both physically and emotionally. This will help you decide whether you can drive that day, or if you need to put your trip on hold.

Featured image by Art Markiv on Unsplash