Is there a neurologist on this flight?

J. I. Sirven, D. W. Claypool, K. L. Sahs, D. M. Wingerchuk, J. J. Bortz, J. Drazkowski, R. Caselli, D. Zanick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Objective: To analyze the frequency of neurologic events during commercial airline flights and to assess whether onboard emergency medical kits are adequate for in-flight neurologic emergencies. Methods: Collaboration of the Mayo Clinic's Departments of Emergency Medicine and Medical Transportation Service and the Division of Aerospace Medicine to provide real-time in-flight consultation to a major US airline that flies ≈10% of all US passengers. We analyzed all medical events reported from 1995 to 2000 in a database that catalogs the air-to-ground medical consultations. All cases with potential neurologic symptoms were reviewed and classified into various neurologic symptom categories. The cost of diversion for each neurologic symptom was calculated and then extrapolated to assess the cost of neurologic symptoms to the US airline industry. Results: A total of 2,042 medical incidents led to 312 diversions. Neurologic symptoms were the single largest category of medical incidents, prompting 626 air-to-ground medical calls (31%). They caused 34% of all diversions. Dizziness/vertigo was the most common neurologic symptom followed by seizures, headaches, pain, and cerebrovascular symptoms. Whereas seizures and dizziness/vertigo were the most common reasons for diversion, loss of consciousness/syncope was the complaint most likely to lead to a diversion. The estimated annual cost of diversions due to neurologic events is almost $9,000,000. Conclusion: Neurologic symptoms are the most common medical complaint requiring air-to-ground medical support and are second only to cardiovascular problems for emergency diversions and their resultant costs to the US airline industry. Adding antiepileptic drugs to the onboard medical kit and greater emergency medical training for in-flight personnel could potentially reduce the number of diversions for in-flight neurologic incidents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1739-1744
Number of pages6
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 25 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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