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Flying with cerebral oedema

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Flying with cerebral oedema

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A cerebral oedema is an accumulation of fluid in the brain. It is often associated with brain injuries or strokes and can cause serious complications. The human skull provides very little space for the accumulation of fluid and prevents the brain tissue from expanding. This increases the pressure on the brain and can lead to dizziness, headaches, nausea and, in severe cases, coma or even death. Rapid treatment in a hospital is almost always advisable for patients with cerebral oedema.

Under these circumstances, a patient with cerebral oedema is not likely able to fly, whether for business or pleasure. But what if a traveller has a stroke during their stay abroad, for example, or suffers serious head injuries in an accident? If a cerebral oedema then develops, it is often followed by lengthy and complex medical treatment – both for the underlying cause and the cerebral oedema itself. As a result, many patients want to return to their home country as soon as possible and continue their treatment there. But are they allowed to fly under these circumstances?

Why is a scheduled flight not possible for patients with cerebral oedema?

From a medical point of view, it is simply out of the question for a patient with cerebral oedema to take a scheduled flight. The air pressure on board is roughly equivalent to the conditions on an Alpine peak. Due to this reduced air pressure compared to ground level, the fluid accumulation in the brain can expand and cause complications.

Even if someone wanted to ignore these risks and still fly, it would not be possible. Scheduled airlines only authorise taking seriously ill passengers on board if they have carefully checked the medical records in advance of the flight and found the patient to be fit to fly. In the case of patients with cerebral oedema, the airline's decision will always be negative.

How can a patient with cerebral oedema fly?

For a patient with cerebral oedema, a medical repatriation flight can only be carried out in an ambulance aircraft. Firstly, a flight doctor takes care of the patient during the flight and will intervene immediately in the event of complications. The modern technical equipment on board the air ambulance enables continuous monitoring of the patient’s health status, just like in an intensive care unit.

Secondly, the cabin pressure in the ambulance aircraft can be adjusted to protect the patient as part of a so-called sea-level flight, so that no additional pressure is exerted on the brain during the flight. To achieve this, the ambulance aircraft flies a little below the normal cruising altitude and the crew employs some additional technical measures. These measures ensure that the air pressure is closer to the pressure at ground level, so that the medical repatriation of patients with cerebral oedema becomes feasible.

Will the insurance company pay for the medical repatriation?

Whether an insurance company will cover the cost of the medical repatriation depends on the patient's existing insurance cover. Neither statutory national health insurance nor private health insurance companies are responsible here. There is only a chance of the costs being covered if the patient has taken out a specialised insurance policy that includes adequate medical cover for foreign travel, but this depends on the insurer’s assessment of the medical situation.

Many travel health insurance policies only apply if the repatriation is medically necessary. This means that treatment of the cerebral oedema would be impossible in the country the patient is staying in. However, such a situation is unlikely in most countries. There is often the knowledge and basic facilities to treat a cerebral oedema, but a transfer to the UK would promise a better outcome. Such ‘medically reasonable’ patient transfers are only covered by relatively few insurers.

Medical Repatriation UK has already successfully collaborated with many international health insurance companies. However, even if your insurer does not agree to cover the costs, we will still be there for you and can organise the medical repatriation of the patient under a private contract.

How much does a medical repatriation cost for a patient with cerebral oedema?

Anyone who has to bear the costs of a medical repatriation themselves is naturally very interested in how high these costs will be. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide any general rates for this, because for every individual cost calculation we have to take into account various factors that depend on the specific situation of the patient.

The flight route is particularly relevant here, as longer distances are of course also associated with high costs. In addition, we need to consider the type of aircraft required, which depends on the flight route, but also on the desired number of accompanying persons. Smaller ambulance aircraft are more economical, but only have enough space for one accompanying person who is not part of the medical crew. On long-haul routes, they also have to land more frequently to refuel. Larger aircraft can cope with long-haul routes non-stop or with only one stopover and offer enough space for several accompanying persons.

Another important cost factor is the urgency of the request and the associated availability of the right aircraft and crew. With a reasonable lead time or some flexibility regarding the flight date, it is almost always possible to find a suitable ambulance aircraft that only requires a short positioning flight. However, if the flight needs to depart as soon as possible, we may have to use an aircraft that has to carry out a longer and correspondingly more expensive positioning flight.

Medical Repatriation UK: your reliable partner

Several decades of experience and our worldwide network mean that we are your ideal partner for medical repatriations. If required, we can provide you with an ambulance aircraft almost anywhere in the world on the same day or the next day, which makes a safe medical repatriation possible for patients with cerebral oedema.

We will relieve you of all the organisational effort and, if desired, can also arrange for transport by ground ambulance to the departure airport and to the receiving hospital. Our multilingual team can overcome all the language barriers for you, and with our highly trained and experienced flight doctors, the patient will be in the very best hands at all times.

Contact us now for your ambulance flight

Our 24-hour service is available to provide you with a free consultation or a non-binding estimate for your medical transport at any time – even for patients with cerebral oedema. Please do not hesitate to contact our experienced international team today: