Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Is it safe to fly with heart failure?

Ask the doctor

Is it safe to fly with heart failure?

Q. I was just diagnosed with heart failure. My husband and I like to travel. Is it okay for people like me to fly?

A. Most people with well-controlled and stable heart failure can fly as safely as everyone else.

The atmosphere contains much less oxygen at 30,000 feet up than at ground level. To make up for this, aircraft cabins are pressurized, though not to ground-level pressure. That means the air inside planes contains less oxygen. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine says flying is like being on a mountain 8,000 feet high. The heart and lungs work harder to supply the body with oxygen. This can tax an already stressed heart and make breathing extra difficult for some people with heart failure.

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