Airport Angina: What You Need to Know

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Angina
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Lift smart to avoid airport anginaI know many of you are already making travel plans for the holidays, and thousands of you will be traveling by air. That’s why I wanted to make you aware, and review once again, the heart risks associated with air travel—namely “airport angina.”

“Airport angina” is a phrase coined to describe heart symptoms of ischemia (lack of oxygen to the heart) provoked by hauling and lifting luggage. Plus, getting angina when you’re far from home is always an unsettling experience. Plus, air travel is associated with many more built-in stressors including flight delays, tight connections, canceled flights and more.

So, how can you keep air travel from tripping you up?

* Select luggage that’s user-friendly:
There’s a great selection of large bags that roll easily on wheels, so you don’t have to carry them, and smaller ones with handy shoulder straps. You can also loop the strap of a smaller bag into the extended handle of a larger wheeled one to lighten your load. 

* Ask your cardiologist for your “angina threshold” or rate pressure product (RPP). In plain English this is the amount of weight you can carry without provoking angina symptoms for you. We arrive at your RPP by multiplying your heart rate by your systolic blood pressure. As your heart rate and systolic pressure rise with activity, so does your RPP.

  • Relax, breathe, and loosen your grip. Your RPP is affected by gripping the handle of your suitcase tightly, or pressing a carry-on bag into the overhead compartment when it just won’t budge. So, keep your grip loose and ask for assistance when putting luggage into the overhead compartment.
  • When you do have to lift, remember to exhale through the effort. Most of us are unaware that we’re holding our breath when we push, pull, or lift. When we hold a breath, especially during inhalation, we force our diaphragms up and into the heart: another big squeeze on those coronary arteries.

While this is my general advice and opinion, you certainly want to defer to your cardiologist when it comes to what is safe for you and your particular heart needs. Enjoy your travels and safeguard your heart so you’ll hopefully never have to deal with “airport angina.”

Now it’s your turn: Do you have things you do to relieve travel stress?

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