Preventing venous thrombosis during airplane flights

Preventing venous thrombosis during airplane flights
Deep venous thrombosis is the formation of blood clots inside the leg veins. Blood normally clots to stop a bleeding wound. When a blood clot forms inside a vein, the circulation is blocked and the blood cannot find its way to the heart. This causes swelling and pain in the leg. The situation becomes more severe when a blood clot that is inside the vein migrates to the lung and blocks the pulmonary circulation. This harms respiration, causes serious shortness of breath and can lead to death. Doctors call it pulmonary embolism.

The risk of having venous thrombosis is increased during long airplane flights. The main reason is the inability to walk or move the legs. This, in addition with dehydration, causes blood to form clots inside leg veins. People with a familiar trend in having thrombosis are under greater risk. Venous thrombosis in airplane is also known as traveler’s syndrome or economic class syndrome. 

Flights that are longer than six hours are a cause of concern. In crowded flights with reduced room between seats, limited space increases the risk of thrombosis. Obese people have more trouble in moving inside planes and for this reason are more prone to have clots. Pregnant women and those on hormone therapy (contraceptives or hormone replacement) have increased risk. As people under sleeping pills do not move during the flight, thrombosis is more likely to occur. People with family history or previous episodes of venous thrombosis also have an increased tendency for a new episode.

The following measures can help preventing venous thrombosis during airplane flights:
  • Stand up and walk around every hour or two.
  • Wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothes.
  • Ask if you can sit in the bulkhead or emergency exit row, where there is more space for your legs to move.
  • Point and flex your feet, and bend your knees every hour.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, and avoid alcohol excess.
  • Do not take medicines such as sleeping pills that can prevent you from getting up and moving around.

Ask the vascular surgeon if you should wear compression stockings or medicines during the flight.