Holidays are an important part of life, and this guide can help you with holiday planning if you have a health condition or disability after a stroke.
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Can I still go on holiday after a stroke?
If you're thinking about getting away, there are various holiday options to choose from with different levels of support.
If a stroke has left you with mobility problems, you may prefer to book with a specialist travel agency that can arrange care and equipment for you. Some holiday packages also include an organised programme of activities, such as sports and outdoor activities or visits to local attractions, while others only offer accommodation so that you can do your own thing.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) and holidays
We know that holidays and travel may be affected by changing social distancing rules for some time. You need to check on the latest rules about your journey and destination before travelling.
If you are more vulnerable due to a health condition, you will need to follow the advice you are given to reduce your risk of infection.
Air travel after a stroke
People often ask whether it is safe to fly after a stroke. There is no hard and fast answer to this. Most airlines will not carry someone within days of a stroke, but the rules vary between airlines and countries.
In the weeks after a stroke you are at the highest risk of another stroke. So the most important thing is to get individual advice from your hospital or GP about the likely risks of travelling.
In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority suggests waiting 10 days after a stroke before a flight. But if your condition is stable you may be able to fly after three days.
Each airline will have its own rules on flying with medical conditions, so you need to check with the airline before flying. You may be asked to provide a doctor's note or certificate.
Immediately after a stroke, you may need to attend check-ups and have medical treatment. The full effects of a stroke may take time to emerge. You might need help with these effects, and you might need to attend therapy sessions. So it's really important to get medical advice about your own situation before you travel.
If you have a stroke caused by a clot (ischaemic stroke) you will be given medication to reduce the risk of blood clots. This needs to be taken regularly to be effective. So you need to plan carefully before travelling to make sure you have the right medications with you, and that you take them at the right times.
Carry medication in both your hold bag and hand baggage, in case any of your luggage gets lost.
If you have a stroke while on holiday, you might need to take a flight to get back home. If you have medical insurance, your insurance company should give you help and advice on medical treatment and getting back home. You can also contact the local British Consulate, which can offer advice and practical support.
Travel and blood circulation
During a flight, the air pressure inside an aeroplane cabin is lower than it is on the ground. So when you fly, you have a bit less oxygen in your blood than normal. This may affect certain people with a heart problem or breathing condition, so ask your GP if this applies to you.
On a long flight, you are likely to be inactive for a period of time which makes you more likely to develop a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A DVT is a blood clot in a vein, often in the leg.
The best way to reduce the risk of a DVT on any long journey is to drink plenty of water, and stay active. Simple exercises like flexing your ankles or walking around will improve your blood flow. Do this regularly during the journey.
If you have had a DVT in the past, and you don't take anti-coagulation medication, ask your GP for advice before a long journey.
Some travellers wear compression stockings during a flight. However, you should not wear these if you have peripheral artery disease (PAD). This condition reduces blood flow in your legs, so wearing the stockings can reduce blood flow too much. Ask your GP or pharmacist for individual advice.
Getting around the airport
All European airports should have facilities to help you move through the airport and get on and off the plane if you have reduced mobility. Airline crew are not able to provide personal care, and the airline may insist that you travel with a companion if you are unable to eat, understand safety briefings or reach emergency exits without help.
Most airlines will carry two items of mobility equipment for free. This should be in addition to your baggage allowance. If you have a wheelchair, it will be stored in the hold. You should tell your airline, travel agent or tour operator before you travel if you're taking a battery-powered wheelchair or mobility aid.
Do I need travel insurance?
It is important to have travel insurance, especially if you are going abroad.
Make sure you declare that you've had a stroke when arranging your insurance and check that you are fully covered. Many policies will exclude conditions that you had before you took out the policy (known as pre-existing medical conditions). This varies between policies, but it could mean that you would have to pay for any costs relating to these conditions. There are specialist travel insurers that provide cover for pre-existing conditions.
Specialist insurance from All Clear
The Stroke Association has a partnership with specialist medical travel insurer AllClear Travel, which provides comprehensive cover to stroke survivors. Find out more at our travel insurance page.
Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)
The Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) replaces the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for most people. Despite the name, it allows you to receive state-provided healthcare only in European countries. Treatment is at the local cost, or sometimes for free. It will cover your treatment until you return to the UK. It also covers the treatment of pre-existing medical conditions.
It won't cover certain costs, including the cost of returning you to the UK, so you still need to get private travel insurance as well.
How to apply
Visit the Global Health Insurance Card page on Gov.uk for full details of eligibility and a link to the free application page. A GHIC is free of charge. If you are charged a fee while applying online, leave the site, go to the NHS GHIC page.
European emergency number: 112
Dial 112 from anywhere in the UK or Europe to be connected to local emergency services.
Travelling with medication
If you carry medication or medical equipment such as syringes in your hand luggage, you should bring documentation like a doctor's letter. You should also carry a copy of your prescription. As well as helping you avoid any problems at airline security and customs, this will be useful if you need medical help while you're away.
Make sure you take enough medication with you in case you are unexpectedly delayed. If you are travelling across time zones, ask your pharmacist for advice about timing your medication.
It may be possible to take oxygen cylinders on board a plane. You need to contact the airline about this before you book.
Current rules on liquids in hand luggage say that you can only take containers of up to 100ml. However, you can carry liquid medication of more than 100ml in hand luggage, as long as you have a doctors letter. Airport staff may need to open the containers to screen the liquids at the security point. For more information about this, contact the airline.
Check before you fly
Always contact the airline or travel company if you have any questions about health conditions or support for disabled travellers. There may be restrictions on taking medications into some countries or specific health advice on travel in a particular area.
Check beforehand with the embassy of the country you're travelling to, or check the government's foreign travel advice.