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Guidelines for Flying with Heart Disease

Air travel is generally safe for heart patients, with appropriate precautions

By

Updated November 14, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Do you want to fly, but wonder how safe it is with heart disease?

Researchers at Yale University have proposed guidelines for patients with cardiovascular diseases who wish to travel by air. To produce their guidelines, published in the July 20, 2004 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, the authors compiled data from numerous studies on air travel and heart disease.

In general, air travel does not pose great risks to most patients with heart disease. Cardiac "incidents" occur only in 1 to 2 patients per million during air travel. However, some heart patients need to avoid flying, at least temporarily, because of the increased risk posed by being confined to a high-altitude (and therefore low-oxygen) compartment. (Airplane cabins are pressurized to the equivalent of approximately 10,000 feet above sea level.)

Patients should not fly if:

  • they have had a heart attack (myocardial infarction) within the past two weeks
  • they have had coronary artery stent placement within the past two weeks
  • they have had coronary artery bypass surgery within the past three weeks (longer if they have had pulmonary complications)
  • they have unstable angina, poorly controlled heart failure, or uncontrolled arrhythmias

Notably, the authors found no evidence that air travel interferes with pacemakers or implantable defibrillators.

A preflight checklist for patients with heart disease:

  • talk to your doctor to see if any pre-flight testing may be warranted to assure that the cardiac disease is stable
  • carry adequate supplies of prescribed medicine
  • carry a copy of your medical history
  • carry phone numbers for your doctor(s) and family members
  • during the flight, consider wearing compression stockings, pass on the alcohol, and drink plenty of fluids to avoid blood clots

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