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Air Travel Could Raise Risk for Heartbeat Irregularities
Date:3/4/2010

Older people with heart disease most susceptible to potential problems, small study suggests

THURSDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- Air travel could raise the risk for experiencing heartbeat irregularities among older individuals with a history of heart disease, a new study suggests.

The finding stems from an assessment of a small group of people -- some of whom had a history of heart disease -- who were observed in an environment that simulated flight conditions.

"People never think about the fact that getting on an airplane is basically like going from sea level to climbing a mountain of 8,000 feet," said study author Eileen McNeely, an instructor in the department of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. "But that can be very stressful on the heart. Particularly for those who are older and have underlying cardiac disease."

McNeely and her team are slated to present their findings Thursday at the American Heart Association's Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention annual conference in San Francisco.

The authors noted that the number one cause for in-flight medical emergencies is fainting, and that feeling faint and/or dizzy has previously been associated with high altitude exposure and heartbeat irregularity, even among elite athletes and otherwise healthy individuals.

To assess how routine commercial air travel might affect cardiac health, McNeely and her colleagues gathered a group of 40 men and women and placed them in a hypobaric chamber that simulated the atmospheric environment that a passenger would typically experience while flying at an altitude of 7,000 feet.

The average age of the participants was 64, and one-third had been previously diagnosed with heart disease.

Over the course of two days, all of the participants were exposed to two five-hour sessions in the hypobaric chamber: one reflecting simulated flight condition
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