27 Mar, 13 | by Professor Matthew Kiernan, Editor of JNNP
This is your Captain speaking: “Go easy on the drugs and alcohol and enjoy your flight”
Planes and an ailing brain….
A high ranking politician got off a longhaul plane flight and promptly had a seizure.
Made me wonder what we know about this type of presentation.
Certain types of illness – especially heart attacks and blood clots – have been linked to air travel aka economy class syndrome.
But there’s been less study of conditions affecting the brain and nervous system, such as stroke and seizures.
Madrid Barajas, a big hospital close to Madrid’s main airport, monitored all cases referred to its neurology department from the airport over several years, to see if they could spot patterns that might be linked to flight.
The most common reason to be referred to neurology was seizure, followed by stroke.
The majority of the people who had fits had not experienced a seizure before.
In most cases, the seizure was linked to having taken drugs or consumed alcohol during or before the flight. In three cases, people had fits because they were smuggling cocaine into the country and had swallowed packets of the drug, which had split.
For those people who were previously diagnosed with epilepsy, most said they had either missed a dose of medication, or had disrupted sleep, or had used recreational drugs.
There were a number of strokes, mostly among people who were already at high risk of stroke because of their high blood pressure. Only one stroke was thought to be linked directly to the flight.
What does this mean for the average air traveller?
Well fortunately, flying is unlikely to cause health problems if you are generally healthy.
Alcohol and drugs don’t mix well with air travel and were linked to many of the cases of seizures.
Fortunately there were no captains in the clinical cohort!
For people with epilepsy, the study showed that the disruption associated with travel can cause health problems if you forget to take medicine or if you fallout of your usual sleep routine. People with epilepsy who are planning a long-haul flight might want to get advice from their doctor in advance about how they can plan to avoid problems.
Check out the study published in JNNP:
Alonso-Cánovas A, de Felipe-Mimbrera A, González-Va
lcárcel J,et al
J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry