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Heart attack

Returning to driving after a heart attack

People who drive a car or motorcycle do not have to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) after a heart attack. However, the DVLA strongly recommends that they stop driving for at least four weeks after a heart attack and only restart driving when their doctor tells them that they are safe to do so. A few found this difficult if they lived in rural or semi-rural areas.

Most people we talked to felt confident enough to start driving again after this time. A few commented that their partners were more concerned about it than they were. One woman who lived on her own, said she found it daunting at first driving on her own at night and the first time she did it, she had a panic attack.

People who drive large goods vehicles (LGV) or a passenger-carrying vehicles (PCV), do have to inform the DVLA about their heart attack and fill in a VOCH1 questionnaire (see Gov.UK for more details). Tthey will be temporarily suspended, for a minimum of six weeks, until they have adequately recovered they cannot drive again unless their GP agrees that they are fit to do so. Their license will be reissued after passing a basic health and fitness test (an exercise test on a bicycle or treadmill) at a local hospital or GP practice, as long as they do not have any other condition or complication that would disqualify them from driving. One man described how he prepared for the various exercise tests he needed to pass in order to get his HGV licence agreed.

 

Describes how he prepared for the exercise tests he needed to pass to get his HGV licence agreed.

Describes how he prepared for the exercise tests he needed to pass to get his HGV licence agreed.

Age at interview: 63
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 63
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And the cardiac nurses at my local hospital were very supportive and got me the specification, the track speed and the inclination for the duration for the first, the three parts each lasts three minutes. And I went and set it up on a treadmill at the local gym and was delighted to find that I could go straight into those exercises without any problem, I could do it straight off.  

The only thing that concerned me was I was on a beta blocker as part of my medication and I knew that when I took the test I'd have to come off the beta blocker and I didn't know what that was, what effect that was going to have. 

Eventually the appointment came through which told me to stop the beta blocker four days beforehand which I did and once I'd been off the beta blocker for twenty four hours I went and tried out the exercises at the gym and found that in fact the only effect was to increase my heart rate by about fifteen beats a minute.

On the appointed day I went into [the hospital] for the exercise test it was all very straight forward, it was a prone ECG, a standing up ECG and then the ECG on the treadmill. And the technician carrying out the test was very encouraging and was telling me all the way through I was doing brilliantly and I think the, you know having done it previously it was beneficial certainly. 

And he was of the opinion that I'd had a very satisfactory test and subsequently I've had a letter from the consultant saying that he found it very encouraging and was forwarding it to the DVLA.  

“Whatever type of licence you hold you should always let your car insurance company know about your heart condition and any changes in your medical condition, including any treatment that you’ve had. If you don’t, your car insurance may not be valid.” British Heart Foundation 2015.

Some said they now preferred not to drive long distances. One man, who had been used to driving long distances up until his heart attack, no longer did, and if he needed to, made sure he had an overnight stay. For driving after coronary artery bypass surgery (see 'Recovering from coronary artery bypass surgery').

 

He no longer drove long distances after his heart attack.

He no longer drove long distances after his heart attack.

Age at interview: 77
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 70
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It's had that impact on me that I have to stop and think, maybe it's a good thing. Because when I was working I thought nothing of getting up at six o'clock in the morning and driving down to the end of North Wales and back that evening, and down again the next day, you know. And all that had to stop and did stop.

And you were doing that right up until..

Right up until I was seventy till I gave up I was driving around. I was only working part time for a company which was nearly full time.

Yes, it's tiring.

I don't think there is a part time thing as such in the field I was in anyway, because you were, you might have to go to [town] today, and go down to [town] tomorrow, or to [town] or somewhere and I was continually on the road, and which for a heart person it isn't a good thing. Not with the amount of traffic that's on the roads now and the danger of an accident, or the danger of a heart attack and causing another accident. You have to take all these things in to consideration. 

That has impacted on me. If I'm going to Ireland now, which I do three or four times a year, we generally tend to travel on a Sunday when there isn't much traffic. Or we'll travel, if for instance we were going to go tomorrow morning, we'd go to [town] this evening and spent the night there and travel tomorrow, break the journey. Not to overdo anything if we can avoid it.

Last reviewed June 2017.

Last updated June 2017.

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