Flight Advice For You With Heart Problems

Most people with heart problems can safely travel by air.

That’s what researchers write in a survey from the British Cardiovascular Society.

Sitting on a plane for a long time can seem intimidating. The air in the airplane cabin has less oxygen than what we are used to on the ground, and there are minimal opportunities for medical treatment if an emergency occurs. For people with an illness, the flight can seem extra frightening.

According to the researchers from the Cardiovascular Society, there are different opinions about whether it is safe for heart patients to fly or not. Advice given varies and this can lead to confusion for patients and airlines.

Most can fly

The Cardiovascular Society is an association of doctors working in cardiac medicine in Great Britain. They have looked at research dealing with heart problems and air travel. Based on this, they have proposed guidelines and advice on when a heart patient can fly, in addition to recommendations regarding deep vein thrombosis.

In their study summary: “Fitness to fly for passengers with cardiovascular disease”, the authors write that they have reviewed research and made careful assessments. They believe they can say with certainty that most heart patients can be passengers on a plane as long as the necessary equipment and qualified personnel are on board.

The study is published in the medical journal Heart, which the BMJ Group publishes. The BMJ Group has again summarized the research in an article in the British newspaper Guardian.

Must take into account

According to the researchers, flying is unproblematic for the following groups:

People with mild angina (chest pain) that occurs during moderate exercise – provided the condition and medication have not recently changed.

People with mild heart failure, and who experience breathing problems during mild to moderate exercise – provided that the condition and medication have not changed in recent weeks.

People with occasional palpitations or irregular heart rhythm – provided the condition does not lead to fainting.

On the other hand, people with more severe angina and heart failure, or people born with heart problems, should consider whether they need extra help at the airport, and oxygen during the flight itself. If symptoms suggest their condition may suddenly worsen, they are advised to wait to fly until their condition is stable.

What about pacers?

In addition to this, the researchers offer the following advice:

A person who has had a heart attack should be able to fly after three days if he or she is under the age of 65, the blocked artery has been opened, and the heart is pumping normally.

Elderly people who do not have breathing problems or chest pain should wait 10 days. If the heart is not pumping normally, or further treatment is required, one should wait to fly until the condition is stable.

People who have had a pacemaker or defibrillator operated on, or who have had stent treatment, can fly after two days provided the operation was complication-free. After a by-pass operation without complications, it seems safe to fly after 10 days.

Blood clot

Sitting still for very long can be unlucky. It increases the risk of blood clots in the legs since the blood accumulates in the feet and calves. If you are mostly healthy, have a low risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis), and have not had an operation in the last eight weeks, the researchers recommend that you keep some movement on the plane anyway and be moderate with alcohol. If you have previously had DVT, are pregnant, have had surgery four to eight weeks earlier, or are overweight, the use of compression stockings is also recommended to avoid blood clots.

People who have previously had DVT, who also have other risk factors such as cancer, or who have had surgery within the last four weeks, can still fly but should take special safety measures in consultation with their doctor.

What effect a flight has on health is poorly documented, write the authors. Most of these guidelines are therefore based on the authors’ professional judgment and understanding of how problems such as angina and heart failure are affected by low oxygen conditions.