Strokes can occur unexpectedly and can sometimes happen while people are travelling abroad. Many people know there are significant risks associated with flying after a stroke, but still want to get home as soon as possible. When communication with local doctors is complicated by language barriers, it can be hard to know what to do. At EMS we’re here to help.
What is a stroke?
During a stroke the brain is deprived of oxygen, often because of a blood clot. Strokes don’t always have long-lasting consequences depending on which part of the brain has been affected and for how long the blood supply has been reduced. Sometimes patients suffer a ‘mini-stroke’ which causes temporary impairment to the brain. While not leaving permanent damage, ‘mini-strokes’ are a warning that a larger stroke can be imminent.
What problems might a stroke cause?
Strokes primarily cause neurological issues which can lead to impaired speech, vision changes, lack of spatial awareness and difficulty walking. These symptoms may make travelling and communicating difficult.
Can I fly after having a stroke?
Often you can fly after a stroke, but make sure you talk to your doctor first, and always check with your airline. Most airlines recommend not flying until 2 weeks after a stroke but some recommend waiting 3 months. If you need to get home urgently for medical care, some airlines will be satisfied with a formal medical assessment and a certificate and a medical escort, but some won’t be. If this is the case, we can get you home another way (see below).
There are some potential issues which may mean that you choose not to fly even if your doctor has said you can. The air pressure on a plane is lower than on the ground which can mean that there’s less oxygen in your bloodstream. This can cause some discomfort if you’re already feeling breathless.
If you’re seated for a long time, either because you’re on a long flight or because you have mobility issues caused by a stroke, you’re at risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – blood clots in the leg veins. These blood clots can cause a stroke. The best way to avoid getting DVT is by walking around and moving your feet and legs as often as possible.
If you have to fly home on a commercial flight, try to book a seat with extra legroom and book some extra assistance for the airport. Most airlines will carry two items of mobility equipment for free but larger items like wheelchairs will need to be checked in. Make sure you take your medication in your hand luggage.
Will I have another stroke?
The incidence of a stroke during a flight is low – less than one in a million have a stroke related to air travel. But there is a 20% chance of having another stroke during the first month after a stroke, and you might prefer to not fly during this time. If you have a condition which is a risk factor for a stroke – such as patent foramen ovale, paradoxical embolism or hypercoagulability – then you may choose not to fly. Hypercoagulability, for example, can be made worse by flying for a long distance.
And if flying makes you feel very stressed anyway, then your blood pressure will be raised which isn’t ideal after suffering a stroke.
I don’t want to fly now. How can I get home?
EMS Ambulance have a few different ways to get you home. We can provide a fully qualified medical escort to look after you every step of the way, which may make you feel confident enough to get a commercial flight home.
We can provide an air ambulance to get you home quickly, avoiding long waits in airports, difficulty getting into the airplane, and prolonged periods of sitting still. Our air ambulances are equipped with the latest equipment and include a team of expert medical staff.
If you would prefer not to fly at all, or if your doctor recommends that flying is not safe, we can provide a road ambulance. Our road ambulances have excellent suspension for a comfortable journey, plus state-of-the-art medical equipment and a dedicated medical team. You’ll be able to stop and move around when you need to, and we provide all food, medicine and water.
Sometimes patients aren’t sure which method of transportation would be best. If so, we can meet you in person to provide a thorough medical assessment and advise whether a medical escort or a road or air ambulance would be most suitable.
If you would like to talk through your situation and find out about your options, please don’t hesitate to contact us. You can reach us 24/7 by email, phone or using our online chat function. Alternatively, you can fill out our contact form to request a free quote – without any obligation – to get a clearer picture of what’s involved.