Flying with Heart Disease

Traveling by air is a convenient way of reaching your destination on time, but is it safe for people with heart disease?

Researchers at Yale University compiled data from numerous studies on air travel and heart disease and came up with a guideline for patients with cardiovascular diseases who wish to travel by air.

Air travel is generally safe

In general, air travel does not pose great risks to most patients with heart disease. Cardiac arrests while in air happen rarely, only about 2 patients per million. However, some heart patients need to avoid flying, at least temporarily, because of the increased risk posed by being confined to a high-altitude, high-pressured, and low-oxygen compartment.

However, there are exceptions

Patients who have had any of the following should not board an airplane: a heart attack within the past two weeks; a coronary artery placement within the past two weeks; a coronary artery bypass surgery within the past three weeks; having unstable angina, poorly-controlled heart failure, or uncontrolled arrhythmia (electrical activity of the heart).

Air travel is pacemaker-safe

There is currently no evidence that air travel interferes with pacemakers or implantable defibrillators.

Prepare before flying

Before traveling by air, heart patients should be prepared even if there is little risk. A doctor’s consultation is needed, where the doctor could perform a pre-flight testing to make sure that the cardiac disease is stable. Patients should also carry adequate supplies of prescribed medicine, a copy of their medical history, as well as contact numbers of their doctors and family members.

Consider wearing stockings

You may also want to put on a pair of compression stockings during flight, as blood may tend to circulate poorly especially if you sit for long hours.

Pass on the alcohol

Avoid drinking any form of alcohol during flight.

Drink plenty of fluids

Carry several water bottles with you during flight, drinking them often to avoid dehydration and blood clots. Since many airports prohibit carrying any form of liquids, you may have to ask your flight attendant for bottled water (or tap water, if you can drink it) every so often.