Airforce Investigation Uncovers High Risk of Brain Lesions For High-Flying Pilots

By Susan Scutti on August 20, 2013 1:18 PM EDT

a U-2 plane
U-2 planes (shown here) fly at high altitudes, exposing their pilots to a higher risk of deadly brain lesions. (Photo: U.S. Airforce, Adrian Pingston)

Military pilots who fly at high altitudes above 18,000 feet are typically exposed to a type of illness called "decompression sickness" that results from quick changes in environmental pressure. While relatively manageable, "the risk for decompression sickness among Air Force pilots has tripled from 2006, probably due to more frequent and longer periods of exposure for pilots," Stephen McGuire, MD, with the University of Texas in San Antonio and the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, said in a press release. "To date however, we have been unable to demonstrate any permanent clinical neurocognitive or memory decline."

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However, when researchers looked into this change, they found that pilots who fly at such high altitudes, whether they experience the symptoms of decompression sickness or not, may have nearly three times the number of brain lesions as non-pilots — a much more dangerous issue than decompression sickness. The study was published in the most recent issue of Neurology.

Read the rest at MedicalDaily.com.

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