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Most In-Flight Emergencies are Not Life-Threatening, Study Says

Update Date: May 30, 2013 06:56 PM EDT
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Are you concerned of falling ill, going into labor or having a heart attack while in an airplane with no doctor in sight? A new study found that there was a doctor on board the flight in half of all medical emergencies.

The study, published in the May 30 edition of New England Journal of Medicine,  found that in more than three-fourths of medical incidents on airplanes, there was a doctor, nurse or other medical professional that was able to help. Only one-third of 1 percent of these emergencies end in death, according to the study.

The study noted that medical emergencies occur in about 1 in every 604 flights. According to the data, the most common problems were dDizziness or passing out (37 percent of cases); trouble breathing (12 percent) and nausea or vomiting (10 percent).

"Commercial air travel is generally safe, and in-flight deaths are rare," said Dr. Christian Martin-Gill, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, said in a press release.

"We hope to look more closely at the most common conditions and which ones require follow-up care so we can better tailor treatment recommendations for passengers."

The study noted that out of nearly 12,000 cases, a defibrillator was used 137 times, including in 24 cases of cardiac arrest, where the heart had stopped. Pregnancy-related problems were generally rare - 61 cases, in this study - and two-thirds of them involved women less than 24 weeks along with possible miscarriages. Air travel is considered safe up to the 36th week, or the last month, of pregnancy.

The study was based on 11,920 in-flight medical crises that occurred between 2008 and late 2010 which required the crew to take expert advice from physicians on ground.

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