Traveling with Epilepsy

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Holidays are a time of celebration with friends and family. For many, this can mean travel near or far. Traveling is not always as simple as packing a suitcase and heading out the door. People with epilepsy have special considerations when it comes to trekking across states, countries, or the world. It can be helpful to carry with you a seizure action plan in case of an emergency. And it’s important to have a plan to approach travel before heading out. Here are some common questions people with epilepsy might have when thinking about hopping aboard planes, trains, and automobiles to spend time with loved ones.

Is it safe to travel with epilepsy?

In general, you can travel safely with epilepsy regardless of the type of transportation. Simply being aware of your surroundings and adjusting as necessary is an easy way to maintain your personal safety.

However, there can be small things to consider that can make a big impact when taking public transportation.

  • If you are taking a form of transportation that loads from a platform (such as a train) or from the side of a street (such as a bus), it is safest to stand away from the areas closest to the platform edge or street curb because a seizure could result in falling or wandering into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
  • This consideration is often second nature to people with epilepsy who live in big cities with widespread public transportation, but it may be overlooked by those navigating unfamiliar city environments.

Can I fly?

Yes. Flying is safe to do with epilepsy. But there are a few things to consider:

  • You may be concerned about potentially having a seizure on the plane. If an unexpected seizure occurs in-flight, the plane may default to landing at the closest airport to seek medical attention. But this is usually unnecessary for people with established seizures who know what to expect. In this case, check with the airline ahead of flying to understand if there’s a policy in place to allow for regular travel if you have known seizures.
  • Fly with someone familiar with your seizures and alert the flight attendants to the possibility of seizures and what to expect to prevent disruption of the flight. If you have rescue medication, always carry it with you onto the plane in case you need it. Never pack medication in your checked luggage.
  • If you routinely have prolonged seizures that require rescue medication or if you have disruptive behaviors after seizures, consider other forms of transportation that give you more personal control over your travel. Examples include riding in a personal vehicle with someone familiar with your epilepsy.

I’m traveling across time zones. How should I take my medication to stay on time?

Many people with epilepsy are regimented about when they take their medication and are concerned about how different time zones may impact their routines.

  • When taking shorter trips into time zones that are only 1 to 2 hours different from your usual time zone, taking your medications at your regular times is unlikely to cause a problem. For instance, if you take your medication at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. in North Carolina and are traveling to Colorado, a two-hour difference in time, continuing to take your medication at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. is likely going to be fine.
  • If you’re sensitive to changing medication times, you may consider continuing to take your medications at your “home time” even when in a different time zone if that’s feasible. In the above example of traveling from North Carolina to Colorado, that would mean taking medication at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. in Colorado to keep lined up with 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. in North Carolina.
  • If you’re crossing multiple time zones, it may be helpful to gradually adjust the timing of your medication over the first 2 to 3 days of a trip. Discuss time changes with your neurologist if you need help planning when to take your medication while traveling.

How do I pack my medication?

This is an important consideration if you might be separated from your luggage while traveling.

  • Pack medication in a carry-on bag or other luggage that stays with you. Don’t pack medication in checked bags that will not be directly under your control as you travel. That way, if you arrive at your destination and your bags don’t, your medication will be with you. Also, keeping your medication with you makes it easy to take it if you’ll be traveling during your usual dose time.
  • If your medication is in liquid form, carry it with you and keep it in the original bottle with the prescription label attached rather than transporting it in a different container.
  • If you are using dietary therapy (for example, a ketogenic diet), bring enough snacks and meals to get you to your destination. If needed, your doctor can provide a letter stating the necessity for you to carry additional liquids and food while you travel.

Because unexpected travel delays can occur (unfortunately, more than everyone would like!), be sure to bring additional doses of your anti-seizure medication with you.

I’d like to have a party with friends and family to help celebrate the holidays. Is that OK?

Everyone deserves the chance to have fun with people they love and enjoy being around. Planning ahead can help make that even better by minimizing seizure risk.

  • Lack of good sleep can make seizures more likely in some people. Before you stay up late to ring in the New Year, try to get some extra sleep with a nap in the afternoon to make up for staying up late into the night.
  • Alcohol may be readily available at many holiday parties. In general, avoid alcohol because it can increase the likelihood of a seizure and may interact with some medications to make them less effective.
  • Don’t forget to take your medication. If you plan to be out, carry a dose or two with you in the evening so you can take your medication when you usually would. If you’re out late, you may want to sleep in. So set an alarm (or a few alarms!) to wake up for your usual morning dose — and then head back to bed.

People with epilepsy have special considerations when it comes to travel, but with awareness and planning, everyone can enjoy a dose of holiday cheer.

Learn more about how Mayo Clinic’s epilepsy experts can help manage your epilepsy at MayoClinic.org/epilepsy.


The content for this article was provided by David B. Burkholder, M.D., Anthony Fine, M.D., and Keith Starnes, M.D., physicians at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.