Flying with Low Blood Pressure
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What is Low Blood Pressure?
The medical name for low blood pressure is hypotension and is when blood pressure falls much lower than what is normal for you. Low blood pressure can have all sorts of causes. Some people will naturally have low blood pressure, not caused by any underlying problems, and will be largely unaffected on a day-to-day basis. Your doctor might be able to suggest lifestyle changes that can help.
However, although unlikely to pose a serious or long-term risk, flying can be a cause for concern. If you suffer from low blood pressure it doesn’t mean you shouldn't travel by air, it just means you should be cautious. Steps can be taken to help - see our top tips below.
Types and causes of low blood pressure
Blood pressure measures the force that your blood puts on the walls of your arteries when it is being pumped around your body. Your blood pressure will change throughout the day - it is lower when you’re asleep and rises as you wake up. There is no recognised cut-off level for low blood pressure which is applicable to all and low blood pressure will usually only be considered a problem for those experiencing symptoms.
If your blood pressure becomes lower than usual, symptoms can include light-headedness, fainting, dizziness, feeling sick, clammy skin, blurred vision, feeling confused, disorientation, and heart palpitations (heightened pulse rate).
Blood pressure will naturally fluctuate. For many, there is no reason to worry. However, there may be an underlying medical condition which is causing your low blood pressure, so if you are concerned, it is important to speak to a medical professional.
The main types of low blood pressure
Postural (Orthostatic) Hypotension
This is low blood pressure caused by standing up. The body doesn't respond fast enough, meaning blood stays in the legs, which causes blood pressure to fall. Postural hypotension is common and is often experienced by older people, those who have been sitting or lying down for a long duration, by those taking certain medicines, those who are dehydrated, or eating a meal (especially one high in carbs).
Neurally Mediated Hypotension
This is also called reflex syncope and is a sudden and temporary reduction in blood pressure, which can cause someone to faint. The main trigger is physical pain or extreme emotional fear, anxiety or stress.
In the case of severe hypotension (shock), immediate medical attention will be needed. It is a life-threatening condition and can happen in a number of serious medical conditions, such as a heart attack, severe allergic reactions or major blood loss.
Tips for flying with low blood pressure:
There is a risk of postural hypotension (a sudden drop in blood pressure caused by standing) when flying. The risk is increased when passengers become dehydrated. It’s easy to forget to stay hydrated when flying - the airport can be a chaotic experience and no one wants to be a nuisance to fellow passengers - but it is important to drink lots of fluids before and on the plane. Drink water and avoid alcohol, coffee and tea which are natural diuretics.
As well as drinking, it is important to keep eating as well. On long-haul flights, remember to eat small but frequent meals.
Wear compression socks
Compression stockings are tight-fitting socks or tights which can be worn during long flights. They help to provide extra pressure to your feet, legs and stomach, to improve the circulation of your blood and increase your blood pressure.
The risk of postural hypotension can also be increased by remaining seated for a long period of time. Especially on long haul or transatlantic flights, it is easy to remain in the same position. However, it is important to get up, stretch and move about during your flight. After landing, there can often be a rush to get off the plane. However, it is very important to take your time. Do not rush. Stretch and allow your body to wake up and adjust.
Move about and stand slowly
The risk of postural hypotension can also be increased by remaining seated for a long period of time. Especially on long-haul or transatlantic flights, it is easy to remain in the same position. However, it is important to get up, stretch and move about during your flight. After landing, there can often be a rush to get off the plane. However, it is very important to take your time. Do not rush. Stretch and allow your body to wake up and adjust.
Check out our guide to wellness and staying healthy on a plane for more top tip!
Your doctor might prescribe medication to help with your low blood pressure. Remember to carry your medication with you onto the plane in your carry on, in case you need it during your flight. More information on flying with medication can be found here.
Address any fears of flying
Neurally mediated hypotension, or sudden fainting, could be a risk for those with a severe fear or phobia of flying. There are steps that can be taken to try and tackle these fears.