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Updated May 5, 2006
Airhealth.org

Advice for Pilots to Avoid Thrombosis Injury

Fainting Often the first sign of PE (pulmonary embolism) is fainting without warning, especially in older victims. David McKenas, director of medicine at American Airlines, says the most frequent causes of sudden pilot incapacitation are cardiac arrest, arrhythmia, and fainting. All can be caused by pulmonary embolism.

Some pilots are skeptical, having flown for years without a problem. But people with a broader perspective are taking this very seriously. John Walker, chairman of the Allied Pilots Association Medical Committee wrote: " Mike, we have taken a look at your website and it is terrific. We are putting a link to it on our APA (Allied Pilots Assn.) website. Thank you very much for your interest in this topic." Dr. Charles Ruehle of the FAA wrote "You're on the right track. You'll get cooperation faster on a voluntary basis than by legislative or regulatory action. "

Clots in the arterial system cause heart attack and stroke. If you are being treated for any heart condition, hardening of the arteries, diabetic arteriopathy, or similar conditions, taking aspirin may reduce your risk of air travel thrombosis. Or your doctor may recommend long-term anticoagulation.

DVT is more likely and more easily preventable. See our prevention page for isometric exercises, compression stockings, and hydration. If you are into athletics, particularly endurance-type sports, you need to take prevention more seriously, especially if you have other risk factors.

Symptoms: Pilots, like other victims, often struggle for days or weeks with strange symptoms, not knowing what is wrong. During this time you are at risk of sudden collapse. We urge you to carry our wallet card or check back to this website if you notice unfamiliar symptoms.

Misdiagnosis. More often than not, misdiagnosis aggravates the injury and increases the risk of death, but there are two easy steps you can take to avoid it. Another reason to carry our free wallet-size leaflet.

One pilot told us that he would be reluctant to wear compression hose because it might raise questions of fitness. Having had a DVT does not disqualify a pilot, but it is better to avoid getting one. Also, compression hose need not be obvious. They are available in some of the same colors as regular hose. But medical compression hose are different from drugstore support hose, which can actually be harmful. See the Links page for compression stocking vendors. Compression hose are not recommended if you have circulation problems caused by arterial insufficiency.

About 5% of victims contacting Airhealth.org are pilots. Flight attendants' risk is low on working flights (the muscles get plenty of exercise) but on a deadhead flight the risk is substantial, especially if coagulability is already high from a previous flight and they fall asleep sitting uprigh.


Airline Pilot Magazine story

We found a '97 article in Airline Pilot, the union magazine, written by Capt. Henry Hoffman who was an ECS victim. His father, a pilot on another airline, was also a victim. We asked Gary DiNunno, editor of Airline Pilot, if he would like a new story with new research findings. It was printed in the June/July issue accompanied by a reprint of an article by Stanley Mohler, Director of Aerospace Medicine at Wright State Medical School, who calls this the Stealth Disease.

The two most important scientific studies were deleted from the story, the research of Bjorne Bendz in Norway and John Scurr in England. Subsequent studies such as Gianni Belcaro's LONFLIT series have confirmed the findings of Bendz and Scurr.

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