Can a Roller Coaster Cause a Stroke?

Riding a roller coaster can be an exhilarating, carefree experience. But it can pose health risks, including a slim risk of stroke that is worth noting.

Young girls on rollercoaster ride

Jono Searle / Stringer / Getty Images

This is particularly true for those with high blood pressure or heart conditions, which is why there are signs at the entrances of roller coasters and other adventures rides warning that these people should not go on them.

For the most part, healthy individuals can expect to be safe on a well-designed roller coaster. However, there have been cases of adults and young people who have had life-threatening strokes after riding these rides. These occurrences are highly unusual, but you should still know the signs of roller coaster-induced stroke just in case.

This article discusses how roller coasters can cause stroke and what signs you should be aware of. It also includes steps you should take if you or someone you know appears to be having a stroke.

How Roller Coasters Cause Stroke

Roller coasters typically move at lightning-fast speeds with sudden twists, turns, and loops. They often stop and start abruptly too. For example, the Kingda Ka roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey leaves the station and zooms from 0 to 128 miles per hour in just 3.5 seconds.

Most people walk away from roller coasters unharmed. If anything, some feel mildly nauseous or experience photopsia—the medical term for seeing stars. But there are others who experience worse. The injury risk that roller coasters pose should not be underestimated.

Between the years 1990 and 2010, some 92,885 children had to be treated for injuries they got while riding a roller coaster. The most commonly injured body parts were the head and neck, which accounted for 28% of the injuries. These children were, on average, 9 years old, but roller coaster-induced injuries can happen at any age.

When your body is abruptly jolted, your head and neck jolts with it, potentially damaging blood vessels in your brain and neck. This can lead to:

  • Ischemic stroke, in which a clot forms in an artery, blocking or reducing blood flow to the brain
  • Hemorrhagic stroke, which is when a blood vessel breaks and causes bleeding into the brain

Stroke-Causing Injuries

Four different types of roller coaster-induced injuries have been reported to trigger stroke:

  • Vertebral artery dissection: A situation in which the lining of one or more vertebral arteries in the neck are torn, causing a blood clot to form that severs blood flow to the brain. This can result in a hemorrhagic or ischemic stroke.
  • Internal carotid artery thrombosis: A blood clot forms in the internal carotid artery, a major blood vessel in the neck that supplies the brain with blood. An ischemic stroke occurs when the blood clot cuts off blood flow to the brain.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: Blood leaks from a broken blood vessel into the space between the brain and the tissues that cover it. The pressure this places on the brain can damage other blood vessels, resulting in hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Internal carotid artery dissection: The internal carotid artery is torn, interfering with blood flow to the brain or causing a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Risk to Those With Cardiovascular Issues

People with high blood pressure and/or heart conditions are warned not to ride roller coasters because of the way they tax the cardiovascular system.

The adrenaline rush that roller coasters give you causes a rapid spike in your heart rate and blood pressure. Those with high blood pressure, heart disease, or a heart rhythm disorder (atrial fibrillation) are already at risk for stroke. These changes may be all that's needed to turn a possible stroke into an actual one.

Having high blood pressure can also damage your blood vessels and make them less elastic. Blood vessels that are too stiff or too weak are more likely to tear on a roller coaster ride, resulting in a carotid dissection or another stroke-causing injury described above.

Recap

A roller coaster's sudden twists and turns can result in a dangerous blood clot or a torn blood vessel. This injury can trigger a stroke in both adults and children. People with high blood pressure or heart conditions are at greater higher risk.

Signs of a Stroke After a Roller Coaster

Common stroke symptoms in both children and adults include:

These apply to strokes caused by riding a roller coaster and natural causes.

Stroke symptoms rarely appear during or just after the roller coaster ride. They tend to progress slowly over the course of a few hours to days. In some cases, the stroke may not happen until several days after a roller coaster injury takes place.

Real-Life Cases

For example, one case report from 2017 describes a 12-year old boy who spent nine hours at an amusement park riding roller coasters. The following day, he was taken to the hospital with a sudden headache and slurred speech. The right side of his face was drooping and he was dragging his right leg.

The boy was misdiagnosed with conversion disorder, a psychiatric condition that produces neurological symptoms, and discharged from the hospital. However, he returned to the hospital the next day because he was no longer able to move his right arm and the rest of his symptoms had not changed.

Imaging tests revealed that he had had a stroke. Although most of his symptoms began the day after the amusement park, his parents reported that they may have began the same day, as "he was found struggling in the waves of the park's wave pool."

In a similar report, a 43-year old woman with no known health issues had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or a mini-stroke, caused by a roller coaster ride. The woman reported that her neck felt sore immediately after the ride, but she had no other symptoms at the time.

One week later, when the woman's TIA occurred, she was unable to hold onto her phone, her speech was slurred, and she was disoriented. At the ER, she learned that the TIA was caused by a dissected carotid artery, which her doctors attributed to the roller coaster ride.

Recap

Symptoms and signs of a stroke that occurs after riding a roller coaster may take hours or days to appear. They include weakness on one side of the body, slurred speech, and trouble seeing, among others.

How to Respond In a Stroke Emergency

1:30

Think FAST With a Stroke

Many people who are enjoying a day at an amusement park with a group of friends or family may want to avoid calling attention to symptoms so they don't ruin everyone else's fun. But strokes are life-threatening, and it is important to get professional medical help right away if you suspect one.

Don't hesitate to alert those you are with if you feel some mild, uncomfortable, or strange symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, or vomiting after a roller coaster ride. Ask someone will sit the next ride out with you. This way, they can monitor you to see if your condition changes and quickly take action to get you help if you need it.

If you or your friend's symptoms include vision changes, tingling, weakness, or confusion, or if any symptoms persist or become severe, do not wait to see if things get better. Immediately call 911 for emergency medical help.

Summary

Each year, more than 795,000 people have a stroke in the United States. Although it is incredibly rare, roller coasters have been known to trigger strokes in both children and adults.

Stroke symptoms—slurred speech, balance issues, confusion, and others—may not begin immediately after a roller coaster ride. They may develop slowly in the hours after the ride or even begin suddenly the next day. Knowing the signs of stroke and calling 911 as soon as you notice them can save your life or someone else's.

A Word From Verywell

If you have been diagnosed with a stroke after an amusement park ride, be sure to notify the park once you have recovered. This is information that the amusement park needs to know, as they should be aware of all incidents that happen in their park. Furthermore, they can and should learn from your experience to make their rides safer for all who visit.

Was this page helpful?
8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Six Flags. Kingda Ka.

  2. Thompson M, Chounthirath T, Xiang H, Smith GA. US pediatric injuries involving amusement rides, 1990-2010. Clin Pediatir (Phila). 2013 May;52(5):433-440. doi:10.1177/0009922813476341

  3. Baumgartle A, Wolfe L, Puri V, Moeller K, Bertolone S, Raj A. Middle cerebral artery stroke as amusement park injury: case report and review of the literatureChildren (Basel). 2017 Jul;4(8):64. doi:10.3390/children4080064

  4. Cedars Sinai. Carotid dissection.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke signs and symptoms. Reviewed August 2020.

  6. American Heart Association News. She couldn't put up her arms on a rollercoaster. A stroke followed. Published August 2021.

  7. American Stroke Association. Stroke symptoms.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke facts. Reviewed May 2021.