Study Finds Increase in ALS Among Former Flight Attendants
A new study by NIOSH and federal partners found that former flight attendants were significantly more likely to die of the disease ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, compared to people in the general population. Photo from Thinkstock.
Flight attendants often have the opportunity to travel the world, but working on aircraft may increase certain health risks. Last year, a study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that pregnant flight attendants might be at higher risk for miscarriages. A new study by NIOSH and federal partners has found that former flight attendants were significantly more likely to die of the disease ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, compared to people in the general population. It is important to note, however, that this was an observational study, which shows only associations, not causes.
Also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS involves progressive deterioration, or neurodegeneration, of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary movement. The cause of ALS is unknown, although environmental factors may play a role in some cases.
In this study, investigators looked at deaths from neurodegenerative diseases among 11,311 former U.S. flight attendants between 1953 and 2007. The flight attendants were predominantly white females who had worked as a flight attendant for an average of 6 years. Investigators found that nine former flight attendants died of ALS, which is more than double the rate in the general population. No increase in deaths from other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and dementia, occurred. In addition, the length of time spent as a flight attendant did not appear related to ALS risk. Due to the study’s observational design and the relatively small number of deaths from ALS, further research is necessary to confirm the findings.
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