Author(s): Peterson DC, MartinGill C, Guyette FX, Tobias AZ, McCarthy CE,
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Abstract BACKGROUND: Worldwide, 2.75 billion passengers fly on commercial airlines annually. When in-flight medical emergencies occur, access to care is limited. We describe in-flight medical emergencies and the outcomes of these events. METHODS: We reviewed records of in-flight medical emergency calls from five domestic and international airlines to a physician-directed medical communications center from January 1, 2008, through October 31, 2010. We characterized the most common medical problems and the type of on-board assistance rendered. We determined the incidence of and factors associated with unscheduled aircraft diversion, transport to a hospital, and hospital admission, and we determined the incidence of death. RESULTS: There were 11,920 in-flight medical emergencies resulting in calls to the center (1 medical emergency per 604 flights). The most common problems were syncope or presyncope (37.4\% of cases), respiratory symptoms (12.1\%), and nausea or vomiting (9.5\%). Physician passengers provided medical assistance in 48.1\% of in-flight medical emergencies, and aircraft diversion occurred in 7.3\%. Of 10,914 patients for whom postflight follow-up data were available, 25.8\% were transported to a hospital by emergency-medical-service personnel, 8.6\% were admitted, and 0.3\% died. The most common triggers for admission were possible stroke (odds ratio, 3.36; 95\% confidence interval [CI], 1.88 to 6.03), respiratory symptoms (odds ratio, 2.13; 95\% CI, 1.48 to 3.06), and cardiac symptoms (odds ratio, 1.95; 95\% CI, 1.37 to 2.77). CONCLUSIONS: Most in-flight medical emergencies were related to syncope, respiratory symptoms, or gastrointestinal symptoms, and a physician was frequently the responding medical volunteer. Few in-flight medical emergencies resulted in diversion of aircraft or death; one fourth of passengers who had an in-flight medical emergency underwent additional evaluation in a hospital. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health.).
This article was published in N Engl J Med
and referenced in Journal of Sleep Disorders & Therapy