More than 400,000 Canadians are living with the effects of stroke according to Heart and Stroke Canada. Each stoke patient facing recovery will describe a different set of challenges depending on their age, the seriousness of the stroke, the area of the brain that was damaged by the stroke, their pre-stroke level of fitness and a host of other factors.
A stroke occurs when there is a prevention of blood flowing to a section of the brain which causes the brain cells in that location to die. There are two main types of stroke. The most common form is an Ischemic Stroke in which a blood clot stops the flow of blood to the brain. A subset is a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) in which the blood clot is smaller and briefly blocks the artery causing a temporary blockage in the flow of blood. TIAs may be a pre-cursor to a more serious stroke.
The second type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke which happens when a blood vessel ruptures and bleeding then happens in the brain.
In either case, time is of the essence to seek experienced medical assistance to stop the damage to the brain as soon as possible. The faster the signs are recognized, the less damage occurs to the brain and the better the possibility of a strong recovery.
While it is trite to say, one size does not fit all. Now, up to 80% of Canadians who experience a stroke are expected to survive. Many are able to resume much of their pre-stroke life including travel.
Your physician is the best person to consult with your questions as to what precautions you need to take when travelling after a stroke. The following are general guidelines but of course, they will vary with each person.
Can I fly after a stroke?
Most airlines do not need you to disclose if you have had a stroke. It is important to note that being on an airplane has its own unique challenges for people who have had a stroke including the change in cabin pressure, and the inability to access healthcare for the duration of the flight. Therefore it is important to get medical clearance before booking a flight. Having said that, most patients who have recovered from a stroke and have regained their mobility and ability to carry out the normal functions of life are able to travel on a plane again.
What precautions should I take while flying?
If your physician has cleared you for travel, there are some common sense precautions you can take before your flight.
Make sure you are well rested and you drink plenty of water during your flight. While travel can be stressful, it is important to avoid stress as much as possible.
Try to move around during a flight to minimize the risk of developing a clot in the leg veins called Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). If your stroke has reduced mobility, this too can increase the risk of developing a DVT. Ask for a seat with extra legroom, and try to move your legs as often as possible, including going for short walks around the cabin.
Timing of Travel?
There is a significant risk of a second stroke after your first stroke, with the greatest risk being one month after the first. Therefore, it is crucial to get medical clearance before booking your flight. Most physicians will recommend finishing your post-stroke therapy such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, before considering travel.
Consider the healthcare options in your travel destination.
While travel is a wonderful option for people who have recovered from a stroke, you will want to ensure that there is first class health care available to you in your travel destination should any complications arise. As more time passes between your stroke and your travel date, the chance of a complication decreases. However, in the first couple of years after your stroke, it is best to travel to destinations with first class healthcare.
Is there any Travel Insurance that will cover my stroke risks?
Most travel insurance providers in Canada require a stability period of several months to a year. This means that if any of your medication dosage has changed, or if your medical status has changed, this can render you ineligible for travel insurance for that, or any related condition. For example, if you are put on a blood pressure medication after your stroke, you may be ineligible for coverage for anything related to your blood pressure (including a subsequent stroke) if your blood pressure medication has changed at all during the stability period. Even if your dosage is going down because you are getting better.
ClearCompare.ca does provide travel insurance for Canadians who have experienced a stroke, without the need for medical stability periods. Clients can apply for travel insurance by disclosing their medical status and medical history, and in many instances, travel insurance can be offered, even with a history of stroke or mini-stroke. Due to the high cost of healthcare when travelling abroad, it is very important to ensure that your travel insurance will cover you for any emergency that may arise, including a complication from your prior stroke.
Where should I travel after I recover from my stroke?
As mentioned, the severity of strokes varies dramatically from patient to patient. Therefore it is important to discuss your limitations with your family and physician. If assistive devices such as a walker or a wheelchair is required, it is important to research the accessibility of your destination. Many developing countries or remote locations, for example, are not as accessible as an affluent city.
If you are experiencing any communication challenges due to apraxia or aphasia from your stroke, it may be best to travel to countries where they speak English, so that a language barrier is not added to the already existing challenges.
It may be difficult to fill your prescriptions while abroad so it is crucial to ensure that you have more than enough medication to take during your trip, plus some extra in the event of a delay. It is best to carry your medication with you on your flight just in case your luggage is delayed. You may require a doctor’s note should any of your medications be in liquid form or require needles to administer the medication.
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