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High altitudes and heart disease

Quickly ascending to a high altitude can challenge the healthiest people, but it can spell extra trouble for individuals with a heart problem, according to the July 2008 Harvard Heart Letter. How your heart will respond to the challenges of high altitude depends on how high you are going, what you plan to do there, the state of your heart, and your overall fitness.

This issue of the Harvard Heart Letter describes how high altitude affects these common conditions:

Coronary artery disease: If you’ve had a heart attack, bypass surgery, or angioplasty, and your heart function is good, or you have well-controlled angina, you should be able to handle a high-altitude trip. If you plan to hike, ski, or do another strenuous activity, make sure you are able to do similarly stressful activities at home. Have a stress test to see what kinds of activities you might be able to do and talk with your doctor about whether you might need to change your medications.

Heart failure: High altitude increases blood levels of stress hormones, which are already revved up by heart failure and contribute to its complications. More stress hormones may cause blood pressure to rise excessively. But heart failure needn’t confine you as long as your condition is stable and you are able to exercise.

High blood pressure: Blood pressure tends to increase at higher elevations, so it’s best to get blood pressure under control before traveling. Bring a blood pressure meter and make a plan with your doctor for changing your medications if your pressure increases.

Also in this issue of the Harvard Heart Letter

  • Age no barrier to blood pressure control
  • Going after angiotensin
  • Fish and fish oil: Good for most folks, but not all
  • Does fitness offset fatness?
  • Taking heart disease to new heights
  • Heart beat: Air pollution fails the heart, vitamins may help
  • Heart beat: Heart-stopping thrills
  • Heart beat: Hands-only CPR
  • Heart beat: Sweeter note sounded for iPod users
  • Heart beat: Calcium scan benefit still uncertain
  • In brief
  • Ask the doctor: Should I worry about my low diastolic pressure?
  • Ask the doctor: Does Tricor cause gallstones?
  • Heart beat: Hands-only CPR

More Harvard Health News »


About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.