ShareThis Page
In a Heartbeat

Why in-flight cardiac arrest is so risky

| Monday, June 26, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Cardiac arrests account for less than one percent of in-flight medical emergencies, but they're responsible for 86 percent of airline emergencies that lead to death. A cardiology task force now provides specific treatment recommendations for in-flight medical emergencies.

We talked with Dr. Thomas Doyle, associate medical director at UPMC Department of Emergency Medicine, about some risks associated with cardiac arrest mid-flight.

Are airlines currently taking any precautions to prevent cardiac arrests during flights?

Aircrafts with more than 50 seats are required to have an AED (Automated External Defibrillators) and medical kit on board. In the case of an emergency, the airlines will search for a medical volunteer on the plane to help assist, and flight attendants are also trained in CPR. Airlines may also use a ground-based medical support service, such as STAT-MD, to assist in these events. Additionally, if someone doesn't look well, the airlines can perform a gate screening on that person and check for signs indicating they shouldn't fly.

What precautions should someone take before flying?

People should never fly when they have a chronic condition or any medical condition that could cause them to go into cardiac arrest. There are cases where people are aware of their conditions and proceed to board a plane because they are excited to reach their destination. Always prioritize your health ahead of a vacation and know when it's not safe for you to fly. When in doubt, get cleared by a physician before using air transportation.

Why is cardiac arrest so dangerous on a flight?

The worst time to go into cardiac arrest is when you are at high altitude. If you are over land, it will take the pilot at least 30 minutes to land the plane, which could be too long away from a hospital, even with proper CPR and medical care. Over water it will likely take much, much longer for the pilot to land. Another risk factor is the length of flights. Planes can now fly for 14 hours, which is too long for anyone to sit still. Long flights with no movement can increase the risk of blood clots in the legs, which can travel to the lungs and potentially be fatal. If you must take a long flight, be sure to get up and move around as often as possible when the cabin crew indicate it is safe to do so.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me