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How to Avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis on Long Plane Flights
2009-04-02 22:14:50


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Concern about deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a potentially life-threatening disorder in which blood clots form in the deep veins of the body, particularly the legs, has been growing in recent years after several cases were attributed to long flights.

DVT can lead to a pulmonary embolism (PE), when a clot breaks free and lodges in a lung. If the clot is large enough, it can cause sudden death.


In an airplane, the dehydration caused by the dry air may thicken blood. In addition, the low cabin pressure, combined with immobility in cramped seats, may cause blood to collect in the legs. As a result, DVT has been dubbed \'\'economy class syndrome.\'\' The potential for the problem is greater when in-flight airline personnel keep the seat belt sign lighted and discourage passengers from moving about the cabin due to air turbulence.


Who is most susceptible?


  • People with cancer, chronic heart or respiratory failure, or an inherited or acquired predisposition to clotting, obesity or varicose veins


  • Those who recently have had major surgery, have been bed-ridden or have suffered a blow to the leg


  • Women who are pregnant, who\'ve recently had a child, who are taking contraceptives or who are undergoing hormone replacement therapy


  • People 40 years and older may also be at increased risk



Approximately four to five percent of high risk individuals may suffer DVT on flights of 10 hours or more. Swelling, tenderness, discoloration or redness in the lower legs may be signs of DVT. Unfortunately, however, there are often no symptoms at all.

What precautions can you take?

At the American Heart Association\'s Scientific Sessions in 2001, the results of research conducted by an international group of scientists from the U.K., Australia and Italy suggested that low-to medium risk patients may prevent DVT with compression stockings, while a single dose of heparin, a blood thinner, may work for high-risk individuals. Consult with your physician if you are concerned about DVT and to discuss how to best reduce your risk.

    In addition, you can

  • Walk around the cabin every 15 to 30 minutes if possible during flights of three hours or longer
  • Do some simple stretching exercises while seated
  • Sleep only for short periods—up to 30 minutes at a time
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine, which may contribute to dehydration
  • Bring your own water bottle, or request water if your flight has a beverage service
  • Walk briskly through the airport during layovers


This ACE Fit Fact is taken from ACE FitnessMatters® magazine. Want more information like this delivered directly to your home? ACE FitnessMatters, the bi-monthly magazine from the American Council on Exercise® (ACE®), is the source for the most accurate, up-to-date fitness information you need to live a healthy, active life. Subscribe to ACE FitnessMatters Magazine online or call 1-888-825-3636.

The American Council on Exercise does not endorse or promote the companies, products or services that reside on this website. ACE does not receive revenue generated from any organizations that advertise on this Web site. Copyright 2003 American Council on Exercise. All Rights Reserved

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