Flying with high blood pressure: risks, tips and more

For many people, the fear of flying means worrying about an unlikely tragic event. But for people with chronic conditions, like heart disease or high blood pressure, other concerns come to mind.

When people fly, their bodies are at a much higher altitude than they are used to. While high altitudes can cause symptoms, such as headaches and nausea, these usually occur in people who live in or visit places at high altitudes. In an airplane, the pressurization in the cabin prevents most of these symptoms.

People with high blood pressure can certainly travel by plane, especially if their condition is under control.

However, there are still some precautions you should take if you have high blood pressure and are planning to fly. This article explores the risks and what you should do to prevent health issues while flying.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is defined as a reading above 130/80mmHg for most people. Roughly half of all Americans have some degree of hypertension.

The condition increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, and it has contributed to some extent to more than half a million dead just in 2019.

The risks associated with high blood pressure exist at any altitude. But studies have shown that people who live in high altitude areas have an even higher risk of developing high blood pressure.

Other Health Risks at high altitudes include:

Many of these complications develop in people who live or stay for long periods at altitudes of 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) or more above sea level. Aircraft generally fly higher than 9,000 meters (30,000 feet) above sea level. But you generally avoid the physical effects of being at that altitude because of the way airplane cabins are pressurized.

Generally speaking, people who control their high blood pressure with medication are not likely to have an increased risk of health problems at higher altitudes. But this risk increases with poorly controlled or severe high blood pressure.

There is little data on monitoring changes in your heart health with the occasional flight. But one study 2021 found that even healthy men without any heart disease had a 6% increase in blood pressure during commercial flights.

Anxiety and other issues that may arise during a flight can also contribute to symptoms and raise your blood pressure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medical emergencies occur in about 1 in 600 flights.

The most common medical emergencies on flights are:

Some of these emergencies can result from high blood pressure. The chances of developing blood clots are also high during flight and in people with high blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about managing your blood pressure with medications and lifestyle changes. If you regularly take medication to control your blood pressure, pack them to have with you on the flight.

The dry conditions in the cabin can also lead to dehydration, which can sometimes cause your blood pressure to rise. Be sure to drink enough water and stay hydrated before, during and after your flight.

Here are some other tips for people with high blood pressure who are considering flying:

  • Discuss your travel plans with your doctor.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption during your flight to avoid dehydration.
  • Be aware that airline food can contain a lot of sodium which can raise your blood pressure.
  • Avoid sedatives and hypnotics during your flight.
  • Do not use decongestants which can increase blood pressure.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothes.
  • Get up and walk approximately every 2 hours during your flight.
  • Keep moving between walks with simple in-seat exercises to promote circulation.
  • Inform the flight crew of any medical concerns or symptoms you begin to experience.

Can I take a blood pressure monitor on a plane?

Yes. You are allowed to bring medical devices, including blood pressure monitors, in your hand luggage. But there may be some limitations for devices with lithium batteries or other prohibited materials.

Are blood pressure medications allowed in my hand luggage?

Yes. You are allowed to bring prescription medication with you during your flight. It is best to have enough of your blood pressure medication with you. Keep your medications in their original container with your prescription information visible.

Can I take motion sickness medication, such as Dramamine, if I have high blood pressure? Will it interfere with my blood pressure medication?

Dramamine and other forms of dimenhydrinate are not known to interfere with blood pressure medications and should be safe to use with or without blood pressure medication.

It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor about possible interactions between your prescription medications and over-the-counter medications.

For most people, flying is a safe way to travel and it doesn’t interfere with most health issues. Spending a lot of time on planes or flying with uncontrolled blood pressure can be riskier.

Reduce your risk of developing blood pressure complications on an airplane by having your blood pressure checked before your trip. Make sure you bring enough medication for your entire flight.