What are the most common in-flight medical emergencies?


  • Mary Corcoran
  • Univadis Medical News
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In-flight medical emergencies (IMEs) are relatively common, and while physicians are often asked to assist the flight team when a passenger becomes unwell, many do not have experience of the environment. 

Researchers have tried to address this knowledge gap in a new review published in JAMA where they provide guidance to assist medical professionals who may encounter such events. 

The review, which is informed by both literature and the authors’ insights into providing airline care guidance for IMEs, details the most common IMEs and provides information on how to manage these. 

According to the review, syncope or near-syncope is the most common event (32.7%) triggering an IME, followed by gastrointestinal (14.8%), respiratory (10.1%) and cardiovascular (7.0%) symptoms. Less common IMEs include trauma, psychiatric symptoms, substance abuse and withdrawal, allergic reactions, obstetric emergencies and cardiac arrest. 

The authors provide information on the assessment and management of such symptoms as well as details on differential diagnosis.

The authors stress that when asked to provide care, physicians will often be working as part of a collaborative team, with ground-based recommendations ultimately guiding interventions on board.