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J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2014 Apr;85(4):435-7. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2013-306627. Epub 2013 Nov 18.

The safety of aeroplane travel in patients with symptomatic carotid occlusion.

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  • 1Department of Neurological Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine, , St. Louis, Missouri, USA.



Patients with carotid stenosis or occlusion may be at increased risk for stroke during air travel. Records from the Carotid Occlusion Surgery Study (COSS), a randomised trial of surgical revascularisation for complete carotid artery occlusion and haemodynamic ischaemia, were examined for evidence of stroke related to air travel.


COSS subjects who travelled by aeroplane to a regional Positron Emission Tomography (PET) centre for a screening of cerebrovascular haemodynamic evaluation were identified. Maximum altitude and total flight time were estimated based on the distance between origin and destination. Ischaemic events were determined by a structured telephone interview within 24 h of travel. Patient demographics, comorbidities, oxygen extraction fraction (OEF) data and 24 h interview responses were recorded.


Seventy-seven patients with symptomatic carotid occlusion travelled by aeroplane to a single PET centre (174 flights). Fifty-two (67.5%) were men and 25 (32.5%) were women. The average age was 58.7±1.4 years. Twenty-seven patients (35.1%) demonstrated evidence of ipsilateral haemodynamic cerebral ischaemia as measured by PET OEF, while 50 (64.9%) had normal OEF. Patients flew an average distance of 418.9±25.9 miles for 107.1±4.7 min per trip. No patient reported symptoms of a transient ischaemic attack or stroke during or within 24 h after aeroplane travel (95% CI 0% to 2.0%).


The risk of stroke as a consequence of air travel is low, even in a cohort of patients at high risk for future stroke owing to haemodynamic impairment. These patients with symptomatic carotid occlusion should not be discouraged from air travel.



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