What are the most common medical emergencies abroad?

All kinds of medical mishaps can happen while traveling: a nasty norovirus, a sprained wrist, a mysterious rash, etc. For us, travel assistance companies, we define a medical emergency as a sudden, unexpected illness or injury during a trip that’s either life-threatening or could cause serious and irreparable harm if it isn’t treated.

The most common medical emergencies we see in travelers are:

Fractures from falls

Fractures frequently occur to the hip, ankle, tibia, and fibula (these are the two bones of the lower leg). To reduce the risk, comfortable footwear should be worn and make sure the activities match the fitness level.

Cardiovascular problems

Heart attacks and strokes are serious medical emergencies that require prompt care. If there is a heart disease or any other chronic conditions, it’s important to pack an ample supply of the medications (at least 30 days’ worth) in the carry-on. In addition, the fluid and salt intake has to be taken into account as well as the alcohol usage and also remind that high altitudes can worsen any symptom.


People tend to worry about catching exotic illnesses overseas, but injuries are the leading preventable cause of death in travelers. Motor vehicle crashes are the number 1 killer of healthy people traveling overseas. Seatbelt should always be worn, even in the backseat.

Pulmonary/respiratory problems

One serious pulmonary issue that travel assistance companies commonly see is pneumothorax, the medical term for a collection of air or gas in the chest or pleural space that causes part or all of a lung to collapse. Travel writer Brian Major shares the story of the time he suffered pneumothorax after stepping off a flight to Mexico. “It felt as if a balloon had exploded in my chest,” he wrote.

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