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Tue, Feb 04, 2003

Most-Common Inflight Medical Emergencies?

According to 2002 statistics compiled by Medaire, airlines had their hands full in managing passenger medical-related issues. Statistics show that during the year, flight crews of 40 airlines called on-the-ground physicians more than 8,400 times for assistance in dealing with inflight medical incidents and emergencies -- the most common of which was people fainting.

The statistics are based on the inflight medical incidents and emergencies onboard airlines that utilize the services of MedAire -- a company that provides airlines with 24/7 inflight access to hospital-based emergency room physicians. More than 65 percent of all inflight medical emergencies fell under one of just five different types of events:

  1. Vasovagal (i.e. fainting)       21.5%
  2. Gastrointestinal                   15.4%
  3. Respiratory                         10.2%
  4. Cardiac                                9.6%
  5. Neurological                         8.7%

MedAire's president and CEO, Joan Sullivan Garrett, attributes the overall rise of inflight medical incidents to the increasing average age of travelers, stress and because more sick passengers are attempting to fly. "Often times travelers will attempt trips with complete disregard for any medical conditions they might already have. The declining flexibility in being able to make changes to travel plans due to change fees and/or the prospects of forfeiting the cost of a ticket may also be influencing people's willingness to risk flying when they really shouldn't."

Dr. David Streitwieser, medical director at MedAire's MedLink Global Response Center -- a 24/7 communications center that managed these remote medical emergencies, says that it's no surprise that vasovagal episodes remain the top medical category. "We are helping cabin crew manage these situations everyday," says Streitwieser. "A common scenario occurs when a passenger has been sitting comfortably for several hours then gets up suddenly to use the lavatory. The passenger becomes very pale and dizzy and then collapses to the floor in an apparent faint. When managing the situation, it's important to stay calm, remember your ABCs and check the passenger to make sure he or she is still breathing and has a pulse."

Vasovagal episodes often happen suddenly and appear to occur more frequently at high altitude. A variety of stimuli can cause vasovagal reactions including nausea, pain, fear and anxiety, urinary urgency, abdominal discomfort and motion sickness. Standing up will accelerate the drop in blood pressure that occurs during these reactions and exacerbates the dizziness and weakness.



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