Recent research

Aviat Space Environ Med. 2002 Feb;73(2):91-6

Safety of air travel following acute myocardial infarction

Roby H, Lee A, Hopkins A.
Contact: Customer Care Medical Assistance, North Sydney, NSW, Australia.

BACKGROUND: A randomized, single-blind, controlled trial was carried out to: 1) examine the safety of patients flying on commercial airlines 2 wk after a myocardial infarction; 2) determine whether or not the use of supplemental oxygen was associated with a reduced risk of in-flight adverse events; and 3) determine the need for a medical escort.
METHODS: There were 38 patients who were prospectively and randomly assigned supplemental continuous oxygen therapy (2 L x min(-1) via nasal prongs; n = 19) or no oxygen (n = 19) during the flight. Prior to flying, an escorting doctor completed a medical questionnaire for each patient. Both groups underwent Holter monitoring throughout the flight. The major end-point was the development of inflight myocardial ischemia, as detected by Holter monitoring. Minor end-points included patients complaining of chest pain or dyspnea; the detection of bigeminy or trigeminy by Holter monitoring; or oxygen desaturation to less than 90%, as measured by pulse oximetry.
RESULTS: Of the 38 patients enrolled, there was only 1 major end-point. This patient had a brief, self-limiting, asymptomatic episode of myocardial ischemia diagnosed by Holter monitoring. Minor end-points occurred in 13 (34%) patients. One patient had asymptomatic evidence of S-T depression on a transport monitor, but not on the Holter. Five patients had transient low (<90%) oxygen saturations, two complained of chest pain, and five had complex ventricular ectopic beats or periods of transient ventricular tachycardia. None of the minor end-points were associated with Holter evidence of myocardial ischemia. Of the 30 patients with completed questionnaires and Holter results, there was no difference in the incidence of minor end-points between the oxygen (5/13) and no oxygen groups (6/15) (p = 0.93). Intervention by the medical escort consisted of commencing oxygen therapy on those patients with low oxygen saturations and those with chest pain. Use of an already dispensed glyceryl trinitrate spray was initiated in one patient with chest pain that turned out to be non-ischemic when the Holter traces were later analyzed.
CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that, provided that care is taken during the immediate preflight and postflight phases not to overexert the patients, neither supplemental oxygen nor medical escorts are needed in the transportation of patients who fly 2 wk after acute myocardial infarction.

Heart. 2007 Dec;93(12):1599-603. Epub 2006 Dec 12

Adult patients with Eisenmenger syndrome report flying safely on commercial airlines

Broberg CS, Uebing A, Cuomo L, Thein SL, Papadopoulos MG, Gatzoulis MA.
Contact: Adult Congenital Heart Disease Unit, Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College Hospital, UK.

BACKGROUND: Despite fears of compromised oxygen delivery in patients with Eisenmenger syndrome during flight on commercial aircraft, a clinical study has shown no adverse effects, and many patients travel frequently.
METHODS: The air travel history over the past decade of 53 patients with Eisenmenger syndrome and 48 acyanotic patients was obtained. Patients listed all flights and destinations, and any major adverse event or symptoms, including, specifically, headache, palpitations, oedema or need for supplemental oxygen. For the patients with Eisenmenger syndrome, a full blood count, 6-minute walk test and p50 of the oxygen-haemoglobin dissociation curve were also obtained.
RESULTS: 1157 flights were reported evenly between the two groups. Thirteen patients with Eisenmenger syndrome reported no travel in the past 10 years (vs 4/48 acyanotic patients, p = 0.03), six of whom were told not to fly by healthcare providers. Of those who flew, the number and distance of flights was similar in both groups. No major adverse events were reported. One patient with Eisenmenger syndrome possibly had a transient ischaemic attack and a second patient needed supplemental oxygen when exposed to ambient cigarette smoke in flight. Other symptoms such as headache, palpitations and lower extremity oedema at the travel destination were reported with similar frequency in both groups. Patients with Eisenmenger syndrome had a raised p50 of the oxygen-haemoglobin dissociation curve (mean (SD) 29.4 (2.6) mm Hg vs 27 (3) mm Hg in laboratory controls, p<0.01).
CONCLUSIONS: Patients with Eisenmenger syndrome report travelling frequently and safely on commercial airlines. Shifts in the oxygen-haemoglobin dissociation curve are likely to attenuate the effects of low oxygen tension. Patients with Eisenmenger syndrome should, nevertheless, be advised to avoid inactivity and dehydration as usual, but there is no justification for limiting air travel.

Wien Med Wochenschr. 2002;152(17-18):462-5

Flying fitness of patients with cardiovascular diseases

Karnik R, Valentin A.
Contact: 2. Medizinische Abteilung, Krankenanstalt Rudolfstiftung, Juchgasse 25, A-1030 Wien.

Air travel of persons with coronary heart disease, heart failure and cyanotic congenital heart disease will be without complications and problems in the most cases. Prerequisite for an uneventful flight are stable cardiac conditions and an extensive cardiac examination including echocardiography and exercise testing before starting the journey. Careful travel planning and timing to reduce travel stress is mandatory. To determine fitness for air travel left heart catheterization is required in most patients with acute coronary syndrome. Patients with an acute coronary syndrome may repatriated with medical escort within the first 2 weeks after the acute event. Patients with a low risk profile can fly with reasonable safety 14 to 21 days after the acute event without medical escort. Fitness to travel may be given within a few days after successful percutaneous coronary intervention in individual cases. Patients with severe acute cardiovascular diseases and an appropriate medical indication may be transferred by air ambulance after acute local medical care and pretransfer stabilisation with ambulance jet under intensive care conditions. In these cases close cooperation between the doctor in charge, cardiologist and cardiologic department respectively and air ambulance is mandatory.