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Heart Disease Health Center

New Air Travel Checklist for Heart Patients

People With Heart Disease Urged to Take Precautions Before Flying
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July 19, 2004 -- People with heart disease should take precautions and discuss travel plans with their doctor before stepping on an airplane, according to a new report.

Researchers say the guidelines for safe air travel among people with heart disease vary and are supported by little concrete information. But a review of the available research shows people with heart disease can reduce their risk of complications onboard by following a few simple steps.

Although the risk of angina, heart attack, and irregular heartbeat or other major complications is small among people with stable heart disease, researchers say heart-related problems account for a high percentage of all in-flight medical emergencies. They also say that certain groups may be at an increased risk for in-flight heart-related incidents. Those concerns prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year to mandate that an automated external defibrillator (AED) be placed onboard all passenger-carrying aircraft with a maximum payload capacity of more than 7,500 pounds.

Air Travel Poses Risks for People With Heart Disease

In the report, published in the July 20 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers reviewed the risk associated with air travel for people with heart disease and presented a pretravel checklist for this group.

Researchers say one of the biggest risks facing people with heart disease when flying is venous thrombosis, or the formation of a blood clot in the veins of the leg, pelvis, or arms. Sitting long hours, dehydration, and the lower oxygen levels in a plane cabin can all predispose a person to blood clots. Most data have shown that flights greater than eight hours pose the greatest risks.

Air travel is also not recommended within less than two weeks following a heart attack without complications. Flying is allowed after two weeks in a stable person if they had a heart attack that had major complication such as heart failure. If a person has undergone an angioplasty where a stent (wire mesh) is placed in heart arteries, then a waiting period of one week is recommended before flight travel. The period immediately following the stent procedure carries a high risk of clot formation; air travel during this period would increase the risk further.

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