Air travel no threat to cardiovascular health

Air travel poses no significant threat to cardiovascular health, according to guidance published by the British Cardiac Society. The guidance, published in the journal Heart, has argued that few cardiac conditions are likely to warrant restrictions.

The guidance was prompted by calls from the House of Lords in 2007 for definitive advice to help passengers, doctors, and commercial airlines properly assess the health risks of flying for those with cardiovascular disorders.

The main impact of air travel is breathing in air with a reduced oxygen content, resulting in lower circulating oxygen levels in the blood, in a pressurised environment, referred to as hypobaric hypoxia.

Passengers already at high risk of angina, heart attack, heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms, may be adversely affected by hypoxia, but the blood oxygen levels induced by flying “appear to have little or no adverse circulatory effects” and certainly not for short- and medium-haul flights, it said.

But it acknowledged the deleterious impact of airport stresses, such as security measures, the threat of terrorism, and luggage handling, on cardiovascular health.

Even passengers with more serious forms of cardiovascular disorders should be able to fly, providing they took their medication, did not overexert themselves and were able to access in-flight oxygen and airport assistance.

The guidance also confirmed that having a pacemaker should not prohibit flying and, while a long-haul flight did double the risk of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), the risk was similar to that incurred during car, bus or train travel for a similar period.

The absolute risk of DVT for a fit and healthy person was one in 6,000 for a flight of more than four hours, it said, adding that pilots were at no greater risk than the general population.

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