By Ann-Marie Waters, Associate Editor.
There is no blanket ban on flying after a heart attack, TIA (transient ischaemic attack) or stroke.
However, each airline has it’s own regulations regarding eligibility. The first step you need to take is to contact the PMCU (passenger medical clearance unit) they will advise you on your fitness to fly and assist you in filling out the necessary forms. Your medical clearance will be then considered on completion of the following medical information (MEDIF) forms. Part 1 is completed by yourself and part 2 and 3 by your Doctor. You need to return your medical form at least 3 weeks prior to your prospective flight to ensure that you receive medical clearance in time.
How can being in an aircraft cabin affect my illness or increase my risk?
The oxygen pressure in the aircraft cabin during flight is lower than at sea level. Blood Haemoglobin concentrations rise through a fall in the plasma volume due to dehydration. Haemoglobin concentrations may rise to 200 g/l and this increased viscosity of the blood along with increased coagulability can increase the risk of stroke and venous thromboembolism (blood clot). Also sitting in one position in the aircraft cabin over a long period and not drinking enough fluids (dehydration) can cause blood to coagulate (thicken) thus increasing the risk of blood clots forming. Therefore – getting up regularly, stretching and moving your legs and feet, and drinking plenty of fluids (preferably not alcohol as this causes dehydration!) will help to decrease your risk.
Flying after a Heart Attack
Generally – you can fly within 2 weeks after a heart attack but this will solely depend on your recovery time and progress, and whether you have suffered any further complications since the attack.
Flying after a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
If you have suffered a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) you may be allowed to fly after a 10 day period but this is provided that you have made a complete recovery, and been given complete medical clearance.
Flying after a Stroke
Generally Doctors recommend waiting for at least 3 months before flying after suffering a stroke. This is due to a vulnerability and increased risk of developing deep venous thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE). DVT is a condition in which a blood clot forms in a large vein in a muscle – this is normally in the leg or pelvic region. A serious risk occurs when a fragment of this clot breaks off and becomes lodged in a blood vessel which supply’s the lungs – resulting in a pulmonary embolism (PE).
People who have not suffered from a heart attack, TIA, or stroke are still at risk from developing a DVT during a flight. This risk can be decreased by wearing ‘compression stockings’ (also known as TED or thrombo-embolic deterrent stockings).