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Deep Vein Thrombosis May Cause Flying Risk

According to a new study, long plane rides may augment the dangers of deep vein thrombosis or DVT. Deep vein thrombosis is a category of blood clots located in a major vein. New US health guidance has also looked into other factors that could contribute to the risk.

Because walking space is limited on planes, lengthy plane trips and the alcohol that is often consumed on flights may increase risks of deep vein thrombosis development. Other contributing factors can be age and whether or not the person has had a DVT episode in the past. Individuals who have undergone surgery are also susceptible to the heighted DVT risk.

Economy-Class Syndrome

There is a belief that immobility because of sitting for long hours causes DVT and because planes do not have much legroom then this adds to the disorder.  Thus the “economy-class syndrome” has been coined. It is believed that if you fly economy then most likely one can develop deep vein thrombosis. Another theory is that dehydration causes DVT while travelling in economy. There is no proof that the syndrome is true and remains a theory.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) develops when a blood clot forms in a deep vein. A clot that is located in a vein is called “venous thrombosis”. These clots can occur in the veins of the legs and pelvis. This can cause the leg to be swollen and pain but there are cases when no symptoms have been felt.

Deep Vein Thrombosis: What is it all about?

DVT is dangerous because it can lead to pulmonary embolism. This is a condition when the blood clot detaches from the deep vein and goes with the blood flow leading to the chest. Once it reaches the chest area, it can block a blood vessel in the lungs which can lead to death.

When there is deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism occurring this is collectively known as venous thromboembolism (VTE) and this is a fatal condition. More than 25,000 persons die from VTE in England alone and this number only came from hospital cases. Most victims get VTE due to the sedentary situation as they lie in bed all day long. The Department of Health and NHS are now implementing a program with the goal to lower the hospital deaths due to VTE.  Patients are given VTE risk assessment when they are admitted to hospitals.

ACCP Guidelines

The American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) released directives about deep vein thrombosis in the February issue of the journal, CHEST.

The guidelines tackled the issue of factors that can affect DVT development when sitting down for a long time while travelling.  The factors studied included sitting location, age, alcohol ingestion, pregnancy, age and dehydration. They also compared the effects when sitting in business class with an economy class seat. 

The study concluded that deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism may not develop during long flights but the risk of developing one is great if the following factors are present:

  • Inactivity during the flight
  • Cancer
  • Previous episodes of DVT or pulmonary embolism
  • Recent operation, trauma or surgery
  • Estrogen from oral contraceptives
  • Age factor
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sitting by a window seat because it does not allow the traveller to move about so much than those in the aisle seat

No evidence was found that alcohol taken during those long flights can cause DVT. No connection was also found about dehydration as well as the type of seats. Economy or business class seats do not have any effect in the development of deep vein thrombosis.

In conclusion, the researchers said that DVT or PE is a rare occurrence in travellers who have had 8 to 10 hour flights. If the passenger does develop deep vein thrombosis it is because of the existence of one or risk factors that were previously stated.

Deep Vein Thrombosis Prevention

The guidelines recommend the following for passengers who have more than 6 hour flights.

  • Walk around during the flight
  • Do calf muscle stretching exercises
  • When possible, get an aisle seat so moving about or standing is easier to do
  • Wear a below-the-knee graduated compression stocking

The guidelines do not suggest that passengers wear compression stockings if they do not possess any of the risk factors. It also does not recommend the taking of blood-thinning medicines like aspirin for deep vein thrombosis prevention. Only those who are under the supervision of doctors should take those types of medicines.

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