After suffering from a stroke, it is likely that a survivor will have limited activity. Issues with daily routines and general mobility are common, but one of the most difficult factors to consider is the idea of traveling by plane.
Transporting yourself or a loved one who has just battled a stroke can seem frightening, and with good reason. In most cases, neurological damage from a stroke has impacted the body, which creates concern when placing an individual into an environment where altitude and air pressure are variables. But as risky as it may appear, flying poses no immediate threat to a stroke survivor as long as necessary precautions are taken.
Is it Safe to Fly After a Stroke?
When it comes down to a stroke survivor’s ability to fly, the answer is yes. Flying shouldn’t be a detriment to a survivor’s health, but there are several things to consider before booking a ticket.
First off, it is crucial to avoid flying within the first couple weeks of having a stroke. This span can reveal some of the strongest signs of mental and physical impairment, so giving a survivor time to adjust is important. In any situation, make sure to consult with a doctor before making travel plans.
Once you or a loved one are on board, another factor to keep in mind is the amount of oxygen available on an aircraft. Typically, cabins provide less oxygen than a normal environment, so if one has any respiratory issues or heart complications, this is something to account for. Generally speaking, lower oxygen levels shouldn’t cause a problem, but making sure you or a loved one are comfortable is always a top priority.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
No matter who you are, sitting for a long time can cause pain in your muscles, especially your legs. For shorter flights (one to two hours), inactivity may not be so severe, but longer flights (5 hours or more) are a different story. When seated for an extended time, blood flow in the body begins to slow down, making it easier for blood to clot. Basically, Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms within a vein, mostly occurring in the legs.
Cases of a DVT have the ability to become more severe if a small clot dislodges itself and travels to the lungs, heart, or brain. As scary as this may sound, a DVT can happen to anybody during long-distance travel, so there is no need to worry too much, but those who have a history of stroke are more prone to experiencing it. The best way to avoid having a DVT is to stand and stretch every hour so that blood circulates efficiently. If standing is not possible, then manually bending the arms and legs is a good alternative.
For some individuals, a condition known as hypercoagulability (formally known as Thrombophilia) can be a serious issue to consider before flying. Hypercoagulability is an abnormality that heightens the risk of blood clotting. Check with your doctor regarding treatment options such as blood thinners or compression stockings. It is also most likely to be a concern for those who have suffered from a DVT in the past. If you have or a loved one has experienced a DVT, talk with your doctor to see if you may be susceptible to hypercoagulability.
What Medication Should I Take to Fly?
When it comes to medication, being prepared is key. Flights are notorious for running late and experiencing delays, so it is highly recommended that you pack whatever medications you may need into your carry-on luggage. In the off-chance that your carry-on luggage needs to be checked, you can get innovative and pack your necessities into a purse or backpack that you can carry with you at all times. Most airlines allow you to bring liquid medications or dietary supplements on board, but checking your airline’s safety regulations beforehand is always a good idea. To provide additional support, consider getting a note or prescription from your primary doctor that lists the medication you will be taking with you; that way, you can avoid any potential interruptions.
What Extra Steps Will There Be For Me?
Along with making arrangements for the actual flight, it is extremely helpful to take advantage of every opportunity the airline itself can provide. For example, if you know in advance that your itinerary will be strenuous, you can call the airline before your trip—preferably 48 hours prior—to discuss any concerns.
More than likely, your airline will accommodate you as much as possible, but remember that crew members are not allowed to give any kind of physical, individualized care. If you or a loved one cannot perform certain physical requirements, or if there is limited mobility, it may be a good idea to travel with a friend or an affordable attendant that can assist in any situation.
If any kind of portable equipment is needed for air travel, the majority of airlines will store up to two items free of charge; however, substantial items—a wheelchair or something larger—must be checked.
In the Air Again
Being a stroke survivor certainly comes with its challenges, but it doesn’t mean that you or a loved one can’t live a full life. With any serious medical condition, a certain level of patience and resilience is required to prevail, and traveling via plane is doable with the right amount of support.
If you or a loved one plan to fly in the future, make sure to get the proper clearance and guidance from a healthcare professional, and check with the airline on the assistance they can offer. By asking questions and being prepared, you can ensure that your next trip will be successful. For more answers on common questions about recovering after a stroke, click here.