CFS Or POTS? Why You Need To Know Before You Fly Overseas

Posted on: 28 March 2016

According to studies, over half of all medical emergencies that happen during airplane flights involve fainting. While the data wasn't conclusive enough to determine the most likely cause of the fainting episode that each traveler experienced, one condition that can cause fainting—especially at high altitudes—is postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which is often misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome.

If you believe you might have chronic fatigue syndrome or you have been diagnosed with it and a long airline trip is on your itinerary, you may want to get tested to see if you have POTS before you take off on your trip. Here's why and what you need to know.

Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome

You may never have heard of POTS before, but it's not rare. In fact, it's been estimated that 3 million Americans may have POTS. Here's what the name means:

  • Postural—pertaining to the position of the body
  • Orthostatic—related to an upright posture
  • Tachycardia—rapid heartbeat
  • Syndrome—group of symptoms

Basically, when someone with POTS goes from lying down, reclining, or sitting to standing up, it causes their heart to race and their blood pressure to drop suddenly, which causes them to get dizzy and/or faint.

This syndrome happens when the autonomic nervous system doesn't work like it should. The autonomic nervous system regulates your internal organs and also controls some of your muscles as well. Due to this, POTS can affect various parts of your body.

Symptoms of POTS

The symptoms that characterize this syndrome include lightheadedness, fainting, syncope, fatigue, weakness, heart palpitations, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure when standing, blood pooling in extremities, nausea, blurred vision, anxiety, shortness of breath, and chest pain or discomfort. As you can imagine, none of these symptoms would be pleasant in an airplane, especially one that's over the ocean.

Tilt Table Test for Diagnosis

Industry experts strongly recommend that people with pre-existing medical conditions prepare themselves before boarding aircraft, particularly for long-distance traveling. Of course, the first step in preparing yourself is to get diagnosed. The best test for this syndrome is called the tilt table test. In this test, you lie face up on a table and the table is tilted into different positions while your blood pressure is taken.

Prepare for the Flight with POTS

 While there is no cure for POTS, it's important to get a diagnosis before you board the aircraft because there are treatments available and a diagnosis will help you prepare. When you book your flight, consider business class so you'll have more leg room to stretch out. Being able to move your legs around a bit before you stand up can help keep your blood from pooling in your feet.

Hydration and salt are two things that are extremely important for patients with POTS, because they help raise the blood pressure. Prepare for the flight by hydrating yourself and by packing salty snacks into your carry-on. Of course, since you'll be drinking water throughout your flight to stay hydrated, it will be a good idea to request an aisle seat near a rest room.

Also, since you'll likely be getting up to use the facilities regularly, inform your flight attendants that you have a non-life-threatening fainting condition if you are diagnosed with POTS. Explain to them that you need them to keep a watchful eye on you when you need to stand up, just in case you do get dizzy and/or faint.

Another thing you may want to consider is requesting special accommodations such as a wheelchair and/or electric cart rides in the airports. Usually, these types of requests don't require a physician's note, but it's a good idea to have your physician write one up for you, just in case. Now that you know how to prepare for your flight, consider booking your flight with an airline like WayToFly.


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