TIA Stroke Risk & Plane Travel

Rows of Empty Seats on a Plane
Stretching your legs during a flight increases circulation. (Image: Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images)

A transient ischemic attack offers a warning, according to the American Heart Association. Symptoms resembling a stroke occur during such an attack, but subside. More than half of those who suffer a TIA will have a stroke, typically within a year. According to the American Academy of Neurology, a rare type of stroke can occur after lengthy airplane flights. Sometimes called "economy class stroke syndrome," this type of stroke results from a blood clot traveling to the brain. Precautions can be taken to avoid such an event.

Symptoms

Symptoms of TIA and stroke are the same, only with TIAs they are transient. The symptoms include sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body, sudden confusion and trouble speaking or understanding, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, sudden trouble walking/dizziness/loss of balance and sudden severe headache without a known cause.

Causes

When a blood clot travels to the brain and temporarily blocks an artery, the part of the brain beyond the clot does not get oxygen. TIA symptoms last about one minute, according to the American Heart Association. Stroke symptoms last longer, depending on the amount of damage from lack of oxygen.

Air Travel Risks

Sitting in one position for long periods reduces the opportunity for blood to circulate. When it pools, it can clot. A clot that travels from the lung to the brain is called a pulmonary embolism. According to the Academy of Neurology, pulmonary embolism can lead to stroke, especially after air travel.

Reducing Risks

You can reduce the risk of forming a blood clot during extended air travel. Choose a seat with the most leg room possible, wear loose-fitting clothing, stretch the legs periodically, rotate the ankles and pump the calves up and down throughout the flight, get up to walk around several times, wear support hose to keep the blood from pooling in the lower extremities, avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water.

Before and After Flying

If you have existing medical conditions, especially a history of TIA, stroke, or other cardiovascular disease, get clearance from a physician before flying. Ask whether to take aspirin before the flight. If calves are swollen and painful after the flight, seek medical attention right away.

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