Flying after a stroke or heart attack

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Travelling after a heart attack or stroke largely depends on your personal circumstances – here is everything you need to know

Holidays are something we all look forward to, but if you or someone you care for has had a stroke or a heart attack it can be difficult to know if it will be safe to go away. We asked the experts for the low-down on safe travel after a stroke or heart attack.

Why flying can be risky

People often ask whether it is safe to fly after a stroke or heart attack – and if so, how soon. It depends considerably on the particular details of your medical history, the risk of subsequent complications and the opinion of your GP. The risks of flying relate to oxygen availability in the cabin and the increased risk of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) on long-haul flights.

When you are sedentary for some time (eg, in a plane, car), it will slow your blood flow, making a clot and DVT more likely. If you are over 60 and have had a stroke already, your risk of DVT increases. Simple flexing exercises, staying well hydrated and using compression socks will help reduce your risk.  

Aircraft cabins have less oxygen available than air on the ground. This can cause problems for those with a heart or breathing condition, but should make very little difference to most people, particularly on medium and short-haul flights.

Why is consulting a GP necessary

It’s not a good idea to self-diagnose. A GP would advise or caution against flying in some circumstances, including but not limited to:

  • having an ejection fraction (a test result showing the percentage of blood leaving your heart each time it contracts) of less than 40 per cent
  • if you show signs and symptoms of poorly controlled heart failure
  • if you have unstable angina or uncontrolled arrhythmias
  • if you are awaiting further investigation, revascularisation or device therapy
  • if you have suffered a series of transient ischaemic attacks – TIAs or “mini strokes” (see below) – and a larger stroke is suspected to be imminent
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How long after a stroke or heart attack can you fly?

It depends. The UK Civil Aviation Authority recommends that people with no complications who are at low risk of another event can fly seven to 10 days after a heart attack. Depending on the patient, some doctors will agree clearance to fly three days after an attack, but always seek medical advice from your GP.

When it comes to a stroke, “most people will be given a ‘supported discharge’ from hospital, receiving their rehab treatment at home, and supported by medication”, says Jacqui Cuthbert, of the Stroke Association. “The treatment tends to last for six weeks, so ideally flying during this time is best avoided. But if you need to travel before that, your GP may sign you off. It is very much a question of personal preference. Check with your insurer and airline to find out whether you need a fit-to-travel note.”

Ms Cuthbert adds a word of caution for those who have a series of TIAs. This may or may not be an indicator that a bigger stroke is imminent, so check with your GP whether you need to postpone your holiday.

Expert advice: always check with your GP before travelling

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What if I have a pacemaker or ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator)?

If you have one of these devices fitted, the NHS advises you bring your identification card with you and alert security staff that you have one fitted, as it may sometimes make the scanner alarm go off. Ask to be hand-searched or checked with a hand-held scanner as the metal detector should not be passed directly over your device.

And finally…

“Make sure you have got good medical travel insurance and that the condition is covered, and also contact your airline to ensure they are aware of your situation,” says Ms Cuthbert. Seek your GP’s sign-off to travel and request a fit-to-fly form as a precaution.

Individual airlines have their own policies on this, so check ahead of time what the rules are. Make sure you have any medication, and enough to cover a long delay to your flight, with you or in your cabin luggage.

Pre-existing conditions

When you take out a travel insurance policy you will be asked to declare any medical condition for which medical advice, diagnosis or treatment has been recommended or received, or have been prescribed medication, and which covers anything from common conditions to life-threatening diseases.

Post Office offers travel insurance to people with varying conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

To find out more or to get a quote, visit Post Office Travel Insurance





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