Congestive heart failure: Is air travel safe?

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Congestive heart failure: Can air travel worsen symptoms?

Question

Is air travel safe if you have congestive heart failure?

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Answer

Air travel can be a problem for some people with congestive heart failure due to lower oxygen levels at high altitudes — even in pressurized aircraft cabins. For this reason, some people may require supplemental oxygen during the flight.

Typically, if your congestive heart failure is well-controlled and stable, you should have no difficulties with mild reductions in oxygen levels at high altitudes, such as in commercial pressurized aircraft. But if you have new or worsening symptoms — such as shortness of breath, new swelling in your legs, or breathlessness after climbing a flight of stairs — you should discuss your travel plans and the potential need for supplemental oxygen with your doctor.

If your doctor recommends supplemental oxygen for your flight, be sure to contact the airline at least two weeks in advance of your trip so that you can make appropriate arrangements. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved the use of personal oxygen concentrators on aircraft. But policies for their use may vary among different airlines and different countries. So it is best to check ahead of time.

Last Updated: 09/28/2006
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