Researchers at Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, Arizona, analyzed medical air-to-ground consultations of a major U.S. airline that flies 50 million, or 10 percent, of all U.S. passengers per year. Mayo routinely provides real-time, in-flight consultation to this airline. From 1995 to 2000, there were 2,042 medical incidents, with 312 emergency landings (diversions). Neurological symptoms accounted for the single largest category of medical complaints, with 626 calls (31 percent), resulting in 107 (34%) of the 312 diversions. Dizziness/vertigo was the most common symptom addressed, with seizures and dizziness/vertigo the most common neurological reasons associated with a diversion.
"Not only did we discover that neurological symptoms account for a significant percent of emergency medical diversions," says study author Joseph Sirven, MD, of Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, "We can also now support our recommendation that major airlines carry anti-epileptic drugs in their emergency medical kits."
In addition to causing headaches for airlines and passengers, emergency medical landings are costly. Without taking into account ground ambulance and hospital care, the cost for neurological-related diversions amounts to nearly $9 million a year for U.S. airlines, according to Sirven.
"Given the high cost and inconvenience associated with emergency landings, we would also like to encourage more public health education, as well as flight crew training, to improve in-flight neurological care," Sirven said.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 18,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research.
For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit its web site at www.aan.com.
Dr. Sirven presented this research at the AAN's 54th Annual Meeting in Denver in April. The June 25 issue of Neurology also features a related editorial on "In-flight Neurological Emergencies" by Arthur Moss, MD, University of Rochester Medical Center, NY, and William T. Longstreth Jr., MD, University of Washington, Seattle.