Elderly Travelers More Likely to Suffer Health Issues on Long Flights

According to a new study the reason for the rise in the number of in flight medical problems is due to elderly passengers, longer flight times, and poor quality cabin air. The research also showed people who were older than 70 were more likely than others to suffer health problems while on board aircraft.

The research in the Lancet medical journal suggested that a central database should be kept of all in-flight medical emergencies so lessons can be learnt and patterns established. No increased risk, however was reported when traveling in economy class verses business class in the report.

The researchers said that as the aircraft now can fly for 18-20 hours non stop, there is a greater opportunity for people to fall ill while on a plane, particularly as conditions inside a plane such as pressurized cabins can lead to problems like reducing the amount of oxygen circulating in the body. Infectious diseases can also spread more easily inside an aircraft cabin because of the proximity of other travelers.

Dr Mark Gendreau, Lahey Clinic Medical Center, Burlington, MA, USA, and colleagues said doctors should apprise travelers of the risks of traveling by air if they are already suffering with long-term conditions.

He said with the increase in the number of older passengers on commercial flights there has been an increase in the number of people travelling with pre-existing medical conditions and this in turn has resulted in an increase in the overall number of "medical events" occurring on aircraft.

The researchers said travelers who suffered pre-existing cardiac, pulmonary and blood conditions were far more likely than their healthy companions to suffer adverse effects during flight as cabin pressure at cruising altitude causes gases in the body to expand by 30%, which does not affect most people but can cause serious problems for others.

Judy O'Sullivan, cardiac nurse for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said, "This study does not change current thinking. For most people with a heart condition, the likelihood of having problems whilst flying is very low. However, heart patients thinking about travelling this summer should always seek advice from their GP or cardiologist before booking a flight.

The authors conclude: "In the modern travel era, clear understanding of the medical consequences of commercial flights has become increasingly important. Individuals need to be aware of the possible medical complications of air travel, and physicians should identify people at potential risk from air travel and advise them of any necessary treatments to travel safely."

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