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Passing out upright can cause body systems failure

Passing out in an area that prevents falling can lead to cardiac arrest due to insufficient blood flow to the brain.
By BILL SONES AND RICH SONES PH.D., For The Oklahoman Published: April 1, 2014


Q: If you suffer a serious health problem while on a commercial flight, how might “telephone booth syncope” enter into play here?

A: Let's say you wind up passing out on the plane, but the narrow seats keep you from falling, so you are without sufficient blood flow to the brain, a situation that can lead to cardiac arrest, says Dena Rifkin M.D., in Discover magazine. This potentially lethal combination was known as “telephone booth syncope,” where passing out in an old-style telephone booth kept the body upright and caused the central nervous system to shut down — especially breathing controlled by the brain stem. “Falling over is the body's way of protecting itself from low blood pressure because it allows whatever blood pressure remains to work with gravity in getting blood to the brain,” she said.

The survival rate for cardiac arrests in an airplane is remarkably low — 1 in 7. But, as Rifkin explains, long-term survival depends on the cause of the event.

Q: Is it cheaper to fly west or east?

A: A flight east from Boston to London will use less fuel than the return trip because the jet stream blows roughly toward the east, says Mark Levi in “Why Cats Land on Their Feet and 76 Other Physical Paradoxes and Puzzles.” But even in the absence of any winds, an eastern trip from Point A to Point B along the equator will take less fuel because of the Earth's rotation. Traveling east, the plane goes WITH the rotation of the Earth, thus enhancing its orbiting speed around Earth's center. “The increased centrifugal force makes the plane a little lighter. And a lighter plane uses less fuel,” Levi said.

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