Does Flying Increase the Risk of Seizures?

Last updated: October 2023

It can be hard to avoid planes. You may need to travel by air for work, family, or vacations. But, if you have epilepsy, there may be other complications. The research on seizures and flying is very limited. But, it is possible that there is a connection.1,2

Flying on a plane and seizure risk

There is not much research on flying and seizures. Some very limited research has implied that after flying, the rate of seizures increased for people with epilepsy. However, this study found no increase in seizures during flights. Overall, there is not sufficient medical evidence to link flying to an increased risk of seizures.1,3

However, factors related to flying may impact seizures. For example, air travel can cause anxiety or stress. Mood changes are possible triggers for seizures. So, it is possible that the travel environment may increase your seizure risk. Long travel days or time changes can cause sleep deprivation, which can also be a seizure trigger.4

High altitude exposure and seizures

For people with certain conditions, being at higher altitudes can cause risk. This can come from air travel. But it is more likely to come from traveling to high altitudes like ski resorts or large mountains. At high altitudes, there is less air pressure. This means less oxygen is absorbed by the blood. This can increase the risk of medical complications for some people with epilepsy.5,6

Commercial airplane cabins are pressurized. Typically, at cruising level, the pressure inside the plane is equal to the air pressure outside at 6,000 to 8,000 feet. High altitude is considered to start around 9,000 or 10,000 feet. So, flying should not be considered a high altitude activity.2,5,6

If you do plan on traveling to a high altitude place, you may increase your risk of complications. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests no increased risk with high altitude travel for those with controlled seizure disorder. However, the CDC recommends caution for high altitude travel if your seizure disorder is not controlled. In this case, they recommend talking with a doctor and developing a management plan.2,6

Tips for flying with epilepsy

With some preparation, traveling can be easy and safe. Some tips include:4

  • Travel with a companion if possible. This person should be aware of your seizures and know what to do if one happens.
  • Consider calling the airline ahead of time. You can ask for a seat near the front, or an empty seat next to you. This may not always be possible. If you travel with a service dog, you may also need to notify the airline.
  • Wear a medical bracelet or necklace. In the case of a seizure, people around you might be better suited to help if they can see this medical information.
  • If you take medical marijuana, be very careful flying with it. Even if it is legal where you live, it may not be legal where you are going. And, on the plane federal rules apply. Research what is allowed before taking it on a plane.
  • Carry any medicines on the plane with you, and not in a checked bag.

If you have concerns about flying, talk with your doctor. They will be best suited for assessing any risk you may face.

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