On the 20th January Russian pilot died from a heart attack on flight from Bangkok to Novasibirsk. Recent pilot’s death led Baltic Aviation Academy (BAA) to look into on board death causes. It appears pilot dying in mid-air from heart attack happen once in a while. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), frequent flights put people at a higher risk of developing a heart condition.
Based on the World Health Organisation, more than four hours on airplane can double the risk of deep vein thrombosis. According to the “International travel and health 2011” issue, flights have three main risk factors even for healthy people: altitude, dehydration and lack of movement. Flying at high altitude can cause oxygen levels in blood to fall leading to fainting and even heart attack, if there was an existing heart condition. At high altitude people do not really feel thirsty, so dehydration is quite common. Lacking water the blood gets thicker leading to a higher risk of developing a clot. However, the lack of movement is the worst of all – by inhibiting circulation it can cause platelets sticking together and forming a clot. These three can cause a lot of damage even to a healthy person if repeated often.
Brenda Dennis, advisor at American Heart Association said “having a heart attack when suffering low oxygen levels is of a high risk mostly just for people who already have an existing heart condition.” However, all the factors mentioned above together as well as other lifestyle factors such as smoking or lack of exercise may highly contribute to the development of heart condition.
Baltic Aviation Academy personnel see there are some simple preventive measures that can be applied on flight to help reducing risks of developing heart conditions. First of all, pilots should keep hydrated by drinking enough water. Eating before the flight is the easiest way to maintain normal oxygen levels in blood even at high altitude. Of course, not forgetting the rule that both pilots should never eat the same food at the same time. Finally, consultations with cardiologists provided an old good method of taking breaks for standing up and exercising a bit or at least flexing feet repeatedly when it is impossible to get up. Wearing elastic socks may also help.
Taking into account the altitude and lack of movement, pilots should pay more attention to their health. So if you are sitting next to one of them in your office at the moment, suggesting orange juice would be just great, BAA pilots state.