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How common are in-flight medical emergencies?

Is there a doctor on board? What to do in an in-flight emergency - Featured Image

 

A person has a one in 400 chance of suffering a medical emergency while on a plane, according to new research.

Critical care doctor Catherine Epstein analysed 13 months of in-flight emergency medical data for nearly 132,000 domestic and international flights on a leading Australian airline between 2015 and 2016 to determine the likelihood of a medical emergency occurring.

The analysis found 284 in-flight medical events occurred every month.

Mid-flight medical emergencies are still considered “rare” but Dr Epstein warns the numbers will rise as a result of an ageing population and due to the fact “baby boomers are flying everywhere” now.

The most common severe in-flight medical emergencies were loss of consciousness (36 per cent) and cardiovascular events (12 per cent).

Most events were not considered severe or life-threatening.

“Most events, 74 per cent of events were very easily managed by the cabin crew or the doctors on board and were kind of simple medical issues,” said Dr Epstein, a senior resident medical officer at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital,

Only 24 flights were diverted as a result of a medical emergency, more than half (54 per cent) of these were due to cardiac problems.

Neurological causes such as seizure or suspected stroke caused 17 per cent of diversions.

While it may seem like planes would be the worst place to be to loose consciousness or go into cardiac arrest, they are actually one of the safest, she said.

Critical care experts say airline medical kits include a range of life-saving equipments and medications.

“You are probably more safe than you would be if you were on the street and had a heart attack than if you were on a plane and had a heart attack. There is a defibrillator right there, there’s crew that are trained in first aid, CPR,” Dr Epstein said.

“On top of that, maybe there is a doctor on board to help out.”

The study was presented at the annual scientific meeting of the Australia and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists in Sydney on Friday.

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