For most people, it is safe to fly with high blood pressure, but it is a good idea to consult a doctor before traveling. A person may have to carry their medication and move around as much as possible during the flight to reduce the risk of blood clotting.

High blood pressure is a chronic condition that does not always cause symptoms. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) estimate that 1 in 3 adults with high blood pressure in the United States do not know that they have the condition.

This article discusses the effects of high altitudes on high blood pressure and the risks these may cause. It also looks into the precautions people may take before flying.

flyingShare on Pinterest
Alejandro Moreno de Carlos/Stocksy

A 2021 study states that people with high blood pressure can travel to high altitudes unless they have uncontrolled blood pressure or heart problems. In these situations, it is essential to talk with their doctor, who can advise them on how to travel by air safely.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a person with uncontrolled or undiagnosed high blood pressure may have an increased risk of heart attack or heart failure. High blood pressure may clog arteries, blocking blood flow to the heart.

Learn more about high blood pressure.

Individuals with chronic conditions should consult a medical professional before traveling. Traveling by air may be harmful to people with uncontrolled high blood pressure or who have just recently had a stroke or heart attack.

Circulatory problems may cause leg swelling or discomfort during air travel, so some tips to help include:

  • walking up and down the aisle when it is safe to do so
  • stretching the legs and arms
  • wearing compression stockings

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that individuals should continue taking their medications during their travels, according to their doctor’s instructions. It is also important to take extra medications in case of loss or flight delays.

Some individuals carry a card that provides information about their health condition.

Some may also consider packing copies of hospital imaging results if they are receiving treatment overseas.

Learn more about staying healthy while traveling.

Blood pressure readings contain two values, according to the NHLBI. These are:

  • Systolic pressure: This is the first number that indicates the amount of pressure that the blood produces every time the heart beats.
  • Diastolic pressure: This is the second number that measures the amount of blood pressure while the heart is resting.

That said, if a person has a blood pressure value of more than 130/80, it may mean their blood pressure is high.

A 2021 study shows that those without heart disease may experience a 6% increase in blood pressure during a commercial flight.

High altitudes may also cause other problems, such as:

However, this would occur from chronic exposure, not hours on a flight.

Learn about flying with a blood clot.

Research indicates that regular travelers may have an increased chance of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), as they have to sit for long hours. DVT happens when blood clots form in a deep vein, mainly affecting the legs or the pelvis.

It does not always cause symptoms, but some people may have:

  • swelling in one leg
  • tenderness
  • pain
  • skin discoloration

Blood clotting is more likely to occur in those with any of these conditions:

According to the North American Thrombosis Forum, people who are traveling may consider doing the following to reduce their risk of developing DVT:

  • choosing a seat with extra legroom
  • wearing loose-fitting clothing
  • drinking water to stay hydrated
  • moving every hour

Learn more about blood clots and DVT.

Individuals with high blood pressure or other chronic conditions might consider taking some extra measures before flying.

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that individuals with chronic conditions take a prescription from their doctor on their trip. This may be helpful if they lose their luggage or medication or need to show proof of treatment during security screening.

They may also consider talking with their health insurance provider to determine if they will benefit from insurance coverage if they need extra medications while away.

Other suggestions include people taking note of the names of medical professionals to contact if they require immediate care. They may also check if there are any health clinics close to where they will be staying.

Healthy flying tips

Some tips for stress-free, healthy flying include:

  • keeping hydrated with water and avoiding caffeinated beverages
  • avoiding alcohol to minimize altitude symptoms
  • stretching the legs regularly and flexing the calves
  • dressing comfortably, avoiding tight clothing
  • walking up and down the plane every 1–2 hours
  • minimizing the amount of salt eaten
Was this helpful?

Research from 2022 explains that high altitudes can cause altitude illness, as there are low oxygen levels in the air. People may call this acute mountain sickness or altitude sickness. However, this only applies to those people hiking to high altitudes and would not occur on a flight.

The CDC mentions some mild symptoms that a person with altitude illness may experience:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • headaches
  • tiredness
  • reduced appetite

People may continue traveling to higher elevations when their symptoms improve.

Other forms of high altitude sickness while mountain climbing include:

  • High altitude cerebral edema: This is a life threatening condition considered an end-stage acute mountain sickness. It can cause reduced coordination and fatigue, and sometimes, it may lead to a coma.
  • High altitude pulmonary edema: This causes shortness of breath, weakness, and cough and can also be fatal. Without treatment, it can cause mortality in 50% of individuals who develop this condition.

Learn how high altitude can affect COPD.

It is a good idea for Individuals with high blood pressure to seek medical advice if they plan to travel by air. Flying can increase their risk of developing DVT, so having a medical checkup before traveling can help ensure their condition is stable and help them manage any symptoms.

A doctor may also give other advice, such as wearing compression stockings, stretching, and walking up and down during the flight.

Other suggestions include taking any paperwork and hospital test results pertaining to any medical care a person is receiving abroad, a doctor’s prescription to replace any lost or out-of-date medications, and a list of medical emergency numbers should a person require urgent care.