Aviation Medical Exams: Disqualifying Medical Conditions

If you're applying for an aviation medical certificate for the first time, it's smart to know what to expect at your medical examination, and which medical conditions might prevent you from obtaining an aviation medical certificate. And there are some disqualifying medical factors that you should be aware of before applying for your first aviation medical certificate. Many of these are somewhat clear - bipolar disorder, for example - but many other medical conditions that you might assume to be benign can be problematic for pilots applying for an aviation medical certificate. 

Below is a list of medical conditions that the FAA has labeled as disqualifying medical conditions. If you have one of these conditions, you'll want to do some research and speak to an aviation medical examiner or a pilot advocacy group like AOPA about your options before you fill out the medical application. Also, there's a good chance that other pilots have dealt with the same condition and might be able to offer some advice on how to maneuver through the medical issuance process, so seeking out the advice of others in your local pilot community or at your flight school is always a good idea.

Many of the medical conditions below can be controlled, and with proof that the disease or condition will not affect your piloting skills or abilities, the FAA can issue a waiver - called a special issuance medical - that would allow you to fly, although there can be additional limitations, such as not flying during certain circumstances or while on specific medications.

Most of the time, the situation will require continuous communication with the FAA and your aviation medical examiner. Often, the FAA will require monthly or yearly documentation from a physician, psychiatrist or another accountable individual, documenting that your condition is controlled and remaining stable or improving. 

According to the FAA website titled "Pilot Medical Questions and Answers" common disqualifying medical conditions include the following.

Disqualifying Medical Conditions

  • Angina pectoris
  • Bipolar disease
  • Cardiac valve replacement
  • Coronary heart disease that has been treated or, if untreated, that has been symptomatic or clinically significant
  • Diabetes mellitus requiring hypoglycemic medications
  • Disturbance of consciousness without satisfactory explanation of cause
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart replacement
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Permanent cardiac pacemaker
  • Personality disorder that is severe enough to have repeatedly manifested itself by overt acts
  • Psychosis
  • Substance abuse
  • Substance dependence
  • Transient loss of control of nervous system function(s) without satisfactory explanation of cause.

It is not an extensive list of disqualifying conditions. The FAA can deny an application for an aviation medical for a variety of other reasons, but this list gives you a starting point for what might be a disqualifying medical condition right up front.

If you have a known condition that is included on this list, consult an aviation medical examiner to determine if your condition might qualify for a special issuance medical certification, or what steps you might be able to take to prepare more thoroughly for the FAA special issuance application process.

Here's additional information about the Aviation Medical Exam.