Episode after flying!: Has anyone else had... - AF Association

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Episode after flying!

Snoopyjackson profile image

Has anyone else had issues with flying? I had an episode after a two hour flight and another after return flight. I’ve had just two episodes in the past five months and have been feeling great so this was most upsetting. As I have several future trips planned, I’m hoping this won’t be what happens with each one. If anyone out there has experienced this I’d appreciate knowing how you deal with it.

15 Replies
BobD profile image

Most common reason is dehydration. It is important to stay well hydrated at all times when flying. No alcohol of course! Aircraft atmpsphere is very dry.

Just a thought Snoopy, but flying can be a stressful experience and stress is one of the main causes of AF. Do everything you can to minimise stress, give yourself plenty of time to deal with all the formalities and some extra time to relax before the flight. No alcohol and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated throughout the flight and walk around the cabin as often as possible. Make sure you familiarise yourself with all the arrangements on landing and as a precaution, check out any "useful" clinics near to your destination should you need any medical help and also have adequate medical insurance. If you are going on holiday have a good time, if it's business.....probably more stress!!!

I ended up in ER a couple of hours after landing after a long haul flight and a meal with a vodka tonic. The ER cardiologist said it was most likely the stress of the long journey and dehydration. Now when I fly I drink lots of water, walk around the plane and avoid alcohol and so far have had no further problems when flying. Take care, and I wish you happy travels.

Before my ablation I always used to have problems flying. I tracked it down to my SpO2 level being far too low - once below 80% ! Normal is >95% so it was no wonder my heart and lungs were getting paniky.

Nothing you can really do to avoid thin air on a plane as it's the equivalent of being on top of an Alpine mountain so practice deep breathing and do it throughout the flight.

Even post ablation, I still find my SpO2 level drops significantly and I now try to avoid flying wherever possible. Certainly I'll never take a long-haul ever again.

I would say that the stress of travel these days and the possibly the bariatric affect of being in a plane plus dehydration. I used to love travelling, now I don’t like flying simply because of navigating the huge airports, security etc. I ask for airport assistance now and that helps greatly! General rule of thumb for travelling - drink twice as much water as you think you need to drink. Stay calm. Have distractions with you - puzzles, listening material, films etc.

Yes I have had an AF episode in a plane and it didn’t worry me so I would ask what is your concern about another episode happening before or during a flight? Do you suffer disabling symptoms? Is it being in a public? Is it a lack of access to emergency services? If you can define the concern it may help you deal with the worry. Develop a plan for the possibility.

You don’t say if you are medicated for AF - if not on daily meds you could ask your EP of the advisability of carrying a Pill in the Pocket Med?

If you do have one how to deal with it?

What I do is take some deep, slow breaths and do some self talk - if you aren’t familiar with this technique then practice. Imagine you are a friend you trust is talking to you in a reassuring way. Really focus on what they are telling you - that this episode will pass and to take some deep breaths. That you can’t go anywhere so relax and focus on your breathing, slow even breaths. If you have a phone download one of the apps such as Calm or Headspace and listen to a talk/meditation on stress or if you prefer, listen to music or watch a film - anything which will distract you.

Do NOT eat any of the airline food, especially if you are travelling long distance - starving helps you cope with jet lag and time differences anyway. Have something like nuts with you - good protein/fat, avoid sandwiches - too much carbohydrates which fills stomach up and more likely to irritate the vagus nerve. Move around as and when it is safe and you can do so as much as you can. If and when you can’t - do your chair exercises - especially leg exercises to prevent blood pooling. Aim for every 30mins.

I’ve had AF episodes in cars and boats and trains and planes and been fine.

Hope that helps - CD.

Eirecara profile image
Eirecara in reply to CDreamer

Hi, do you know your hr when in a.fib and are you symptomatic? The thought of having an episode while flying terrifies me!

CDreamer profile image
CDreamer in reply to Eirecara

Believe me there is absolutely no doubt and yes I am very symptomatic. I don’t see anything to be terrified about but until it happens I think the fear of it happening is far worse than when it does!

Let’s face it - there’s nothing you can do anyway as you can’t decide to get off so best thing to do is just sit back and restless

Thanks for the great advice. I’ve never had an episode during or just before a flight, it starts during the night right after the flight. I’ve had Afib infrequently over the past ten years, and just this year the episodes have started to become more frequent. I have no debilitating symptoms but am always very aware of the fact that my heart is definitely not in sync. I’m currently only taking Xarelto and as I don’t have terrible symptoms do not want to go on any other daily meds that have a “boatload of issues” (my cardiologists words)!! In any case, for the most part I’ve been in a good place, but as I have two more long flights planned I’m thankful to have any advice from fellow Afibbers who have experienced this issue. Thanks again for the tips.

I'm doing a lot of long-haul flying at the moment and haven't had any issues as a result of flying. As Bob says, keeping hydrated is key, both to AF and jet lag. The other consideration is when to take any medication if the time differences are more than an hour or so - it's worth working it out in advance. Generally I'll delay a dose rather than take it sooner.


I have been flown numerous times, I try to prepare. Get plenty of REST before and after flights, hydrate well, takes your meds on time, and I usually take a little something for anxiety. The airports can be quite stressful, even ask for assistance via wheelchair if the walking is excessive or more than you are accustomed to. For me, going in afib is debilitating and does not convert with DC cardioversion, SO YES it hits my panic mode at the thought of afib during a trip or flight. I never partake of alcohol and also watch the sodium as a extra precaution to balance Blood pressure just in case, I do any and all precautions that I am aware of. For me the biggest is sleep change patterns....

Gladaven profile image
Gladaven in reply to Spoiler

Hello Spoiler may I ask what is your little something for anxiety if you don't mind and is your GP happy to prescribe. Thanks for all your other wise advice. Regards Glad.

Spoiler profile image
Spoiler in reply to Gladaven

Certainly glad to share my med for anxiety,

.5 mg xanax works well and does not affect my functionly well at all. I do not like anything that would do that. You can always half it if it is too much, but this is a small dose. Anyone with afib has a lot to deal with if it affects you functioning, as mine does immensely. Hope this helps, my EP suggested it.

Gladaven profile image
Gladaven in reply to Spoiler

Thank you for the info Spoiler, as you say us AF sufferers are often in need of some respite from this rotten condition. Cheers Gladie x

I have had issues with flying and like Mike11 have attributed it to oxygen levels dropping too low. Some of the newer planes are pressurized to lower altitudes (e.g., the Dreamliner and the Embraer E-jets) and those planes have been much better for me. Some of the older planes (e.g., Boeing 737's) are always a problem when I fly, so I now make a point of avoiding them when I make reservations. Maintaining hydration and watching what you eat is good advice, but for me, the key is making sure I am on a better pressurized plane. If not, I watch my O2 levels slowly drop, my heart rate rise to compensate, and then I start feeling shaky and may or may not go into afib (despite being well hydrated and avoiding the sugar-bomb snacks they hand out during flight). I have recorded some pretty funky waveforms on my kardia after getting off of one of those flights, which tells me that my system has been thrown out of whack bigtime. When that happens, it generally takes a good 10 to 12 hours before I recover.

I had a prolonged episode of Afib (about 6 hours) on a Monday morning. I had returned from Italy early on Sunday morning. Of course, it cannot be said with certainty that the flying had anything to do with it. A possibility is that, even if you are not a nervous flyer (I wouldn’t say that I was) that there may be increased adrenaline from the general hustle and bustle of preparing for a flight, going back to work etc.

The following provides some information: everydayhealth.com/hs/atria...

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