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Flying Tied to Stomach Pains for People with Chronic Intestinal Inflammation

Update Date: Sep 16, 2013 03:06 PM EDT

Although flying is the quickest way to travel long distances, the idea of flying can still deter people from choosing this mode of transportation. Even though statistics reveal that driving is more dangerous than flying, the thought of being thousands of feet high above the ground can be quite frightening. Due to the fears associated with flying, some flyers might experience high levels of stress that can cause stomach pains. However, although these stomach pains might be caused by stress, a new study found that stomach pains experienced by flyers that have chronic intestinal inflammation might be caused by the lack of oxygen once the airplane reaches a high altitude.

This study, which was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), examined around 100 patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The researchers from the Swiss IBD Cohort Study headed by Stephen R. Vavricka of the Triemli hospital in Zurich, looked at patients with IBD one month after they stayed at a high altitude location or sat on a fight. The researchers found patients who were at higher altitude had reported more bouts of inflammation than patients who did not.

Even though IBD patients have been aware of the association between bouts of inflammation and flying, the association has often been blamed on the stress involved with flying. Vavricka explained in this study that the outbreaks are more likely caused by a lack of oxygen. The lack of oxygen experienced while on a flight or at least 2,500 meters above sea levels leads to more bouts. Vavricka stated that this relationship between the lack of oxygen and the inflammatory response could also be proven through the use of tissue samples in a laboratory experiment.

The researchers believe that identifying this relationship could help doctors prescribe medications to patients with IBD who are planning on flying or staying at a high altitude location. These medications would help control the bowels' response to a lack of oxygen and hopefully prevent the uncomfortable bouts of inflammation.

The study was published in the Journal of Crohn's and Colitis.

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