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Epilepsy Health Center

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Is There a Neurologist on Board?

WebMD Health News

April 17, 2002 -- In-flight seizures and symptoms of other nerve problems are second only to heart problems as the leading cause of emergency landings of commercial airlines. A new study suggests that means anti-epileptic drugs to treat a seizure deserve a place alongside the now-standard automated emergency defibrillators (AEDs) in today's onboard medical kits.

Although AEDs have recently become standard equipment on many airlines to restart the heart in case of an emergency, researchers say it's also time to upgrade the level of neurological care provided on airplanes.

The study's findings were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Researchers analyzed the number of air-to-ground medical consultations reported by a major U.S. airline that flies about 10% of all air passengers each year. Of the more than 2,000 calls reported between 1995 and 2000, symptoms of seizures or other brain or nerve problems were the most frequent cause for consultation, accounting for 19% of all incidents on board.

Dizziness or vertigo was the most common complaint, while seizures and dizziness and vertigo were the most common neurological reasons for an emergency landing.

"Not only did we discover that neurological symptoms account for a significant percent of emergency medical diversions," says study author Joseph Sirven, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., in a news release, "we can also now support our recommendation that major airlines carry anti-epileptic drugs in their emergency medical kits."

Researchers say it costs an airline about $50,000 to divert a plane due to a medical emergency. The study found that diversions caused by neurological emergencies cost major U.S. airlines nearly $6 million each year, not including the cost of an ambulance or hospital care on the ground.

"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," says Sirven in the release.

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