Is there a doctor on board? Surprisingly often, there is — in half of in-flight medical emergencies — and sick airline passengers almost always survive, a new study finds.
The research is the largest look yet at what happens to people who develop a medical problem on a commercial flight — about 44,000 of the 2.75 billion passengers worldwide each year, researchers estimate.
The federally funded study reviewed about 12,000 cases handled by the Pittsburgh center over nearly three years. Results are in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.
Among the findings:
■ The odds of a medical emergency are 1 per 604 flights, or 16 per 1 million passengers.
■ Planes had to be diverted for emergency help in only 7 percent of cases.
■ Doctors were on board and volunteered to help in 48 percent of cases; nurses and other health workers were available in another 28 percent.
■ The most common problems: Dizziness or passing out (37 percent); trouble breathing (12 percent) and nausea or vomiting (10 percent).
■ About one-fourth of passengers were evaluated at a hospital after landing and 9 percent were admitted, usually with stroke, respiratory, or cardiac symptoms.