Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Sarah is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and is the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

Originally posted: 4th Jan 2021

Top tips for travelling if you've had a stroke

Having had a stroke or TIA (sometimes called a 'mini stroke') doesn't automatically mean you can't go on holiday. But depending on how long ago your stroke was, and what symptoms you've been left with, you will need to take a few extra precautions to make sure your trip goes smoothly.

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Airline travel

If you've had a stroke, you're at higher risk of a clot on the leg (a deep vein thrombosis or DVT) that could travel to your lungs. Reduce the risk by doing simple exercises to keep your legs moving if you can (most airlines have examples in their in-flight magazines), avoiding alcohol and drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids. Speak to your doctor about whether elastic compression stockings might help. If you can, get an aisle seat and get up and walk up and down the cabin regularly.

Airline operators have a duty to provide help for you to board, leave the plane and transfer between flights. However, you need to give them notice of what help you'll need.

If you need personal care, bear in mind that airline staff are not allowed to provide this (although they can provide some help with getting you on board and disembarking). You'll need to have someone with you to attend to any personal care you need.

If you need assistance at the airport, let the airline know what you'll need and when: transfer from the car park or bus stop to the terminal, a wheelchair to the gate, help at security gates or getting onto the plane or a specific seat on the aircraft.

Dubai Coastline

Your medication

Pack your medication in your hand luggage just in case your hold luggage is lost or delayed. If you're travelling with someone else, it's a good idea to get them to carry some of it. However, be aware that you'll need to be with them when they go through customs or airport security so you can vouch that the medication is yours.

Make sure you know the rules about what medication can go in your hand luggage, whether the country you're visiting has restrictions on certain medicines.

Take a list of all your medications as well as a copy of your repeat prescription – and keep your medication in its original packaging with your name on the label.

Your welbeing

It's very common to tire more easily if you've had a stroke. Take into account the length of travel involved in getting to your destination and consider booking trips that don't involve early morning or late-night transfers.

If you have mobility problems as a result of your stroke, consider booking with a travel agency that provides a range of activities tailored to your needs. They should also be able to offer options which have step-free access and are wheelchair accessible.

If you need to take a wheelchair or other mobility equipment with you for use during your holiday, speak to your airline. Most airlines will carry two items of mobility equipment without charge, although you'll have to check in larger items such as wheelchairs.

If your speech is affected, take a written copy of your travel itinerary with you. You can show this if you need help during your transfers.

Speak to your doctor

If you've had a stroke in the past few months, check with your doctor whether they think it's safe for you to fly. You certainly shouldn't fly the first two to three weeks after a stroke – this is the time your problems are likely to be most severe and you're most likely to develop other issues related to your stroke. However, if your stroke was caused by a bleed into the brain (rather than the more common clot on the brain) you may need to wait longer.

Other top tips

If you're travelling alone, make sure you take contact details of someone who can be contacted if you run into problems. Ideally make arrangements with more than one person to increase the chance of your contact being available.

Do make sure you have specialist travel insurance in place before you go. Many policies will exclude pre-existing medical conditions such as a history of stroke or TIA. Getting a policy which doesn't specify cover if you've had a stroke or TIA could invalidate your insurance if you fall ill while you're away.

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