Apr 17, 2002
By Alan Mozes
NEW YORK, (Reuters Health)
Among the half billion Americans who fly each year, neurological problems such as seizures, dizziness and vertigo rank number one when it comes to complaints requiring assistance from on-ground care providers--taking second place only to cardiovascular problems as a medical cause for emergency landings, according to researchers.
"Surprisingly, we found that neurological symptoms were the most common in-flight medical complaint requiring air-to-ground medical support, which resulted in costly and inconvenient unscheduled landings for the traveler," said study lead author Dr. Joseph I. Sirven of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. He presented his findings Wednesday at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Denver, Colorado.
Sirven and his colleagues examined the records of medical air-to-ground support offered by the Mayo Clinic to a major American airline between 1995 to 2000. The airline carries 10% of US passengers annually.
During that period, the researchers found, there were 2,042 medical complaints, leading to 312 emergency landings--referred to as "diversions." Neurological symptoms accounted for roughly 19% of all complaints--the largest such health category--and resulted in more than 25% of all diversions.
Sirven and his team found that dizziness and vertigo were the most frequently observed neurological symptoms, followed by epileptic seizures and headaches. Confusion, they noted, was the complaint most likely to lead to a diversion--although seizures, dizziness, and vertigo were the most common reasons for emergency landings.
The study authors concluded that given the findings and the high cost of emergency landings, major airlines should update their standard emergency medical kits to include anti-epileptic drugs that could be administered during a flight. They pointed out that the cost of diversions related to neurological complaints totals almost $6 million each year nationwide-at least $50,000 per diversion--even without accounting for the expense of ground ambulances and hospital care.
Sirven told Reuters Health that while future studies should focus on the adequacy of on-board emergency medical kits for treating strokes and seizures, at-risk passengers can take certain precautions before boarding a plane.
"Individuals with neurological conditions such as seizures, migraine headaches, Parkinson's disease, tremor and other brain-related conditions should carry their medications and identification--such as a Med-Alert bracelet," said Sirven. "(And they) should avoid alcohol and postpone medication changes or adjustments until travel is completed.
"Our hope," he added, "is to encourage education and public awareness
of in-flight neurological conditions, so individuals at risk for these
medical problems are better prepared."
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