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An Oxford University study has found that the lower-pressure environment experienced when flying increases blood pressure in the lungs.

Monitoring a volunteer in the hypobaric chamber Dr Thomas Smith
Monitoring a volunteer in the hypobaric chamber

With an unknown but significant number of flights diverted each year for medical emergencies, the results could be used to improve health screening before flight as well as care for patients being moved by air.

Using a hypobaric altitude chamber, in which air pressure was decreased and increased to simulate the experience of a short-haul commercial flight, a team from Oxford's Aerospace Medicine Research Group, led by Dr Thomas Smith, monitored blood oxygen levels and pressure in the pulmonary artery, which carries deoxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs.

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