Long Flights: How to Decrease the Risk of Blood Clots

Blood clots are a big risk on long flights. Luckily, they are preventable.

blood clots

As an orthopaedic surgeon, one medical condition we are always trying to prevent is a blood clot. Not only are blood clots not very fun, but unfortunately they can also be fatal.

An article in the Guardian, A British Daily newspaper, brought to light a case of a 27 year-old British woman who died as a result of a pulmonary embolism (blood clot that usually comes from the legs to the lungs) after a long flight from Australia to London in 2001. The World Health Organization stated that there is probably some association between air-travel and blood clots.

READ MORE: Tips on Traveling with Multiple Children

A study in Lancet (by Scurr HJ et al in 2001) evaluated 231 passengers on long-haul flights (greater than 8 hours) and did ultrasounds to see if they developed blood clots on the long flights. Five percent of passengers developed blood clots in their legs. And, with the amount of people who travel today, that number would become significant fairly quickly. Other studies report up to 20% of travelers developing blood clots on flights greater than 4 hours. Certainly, not all blood clots lead to major medical issues, but it would be helpful to prevent them. The Lancet study showed that passengers wearing compressive stockings were at less risk for developing blood clots.

For those of you who just booked an international flight…here are some tips to avoid blood clots as recommended by the LONFLIT study published in Angiology.

  • Passengers should be advised to drink plenty of fluids (one glass of water every 2 hours) and limit alcohol consumption to prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid tight clothing
  • Avoid keeping bag in front of seat which would limit stretching the legs
  • Stretch legs at least every hour for 2 minutes or more.
  • Encourage passengers to be mobile 3 minutes every hour.
  • If possible sit in the aisle seat (higher incidence of blood clots in the central or window seat passengers)
  • Continue exercises for at least 2 weeks following the flight. Most blood clotting events occur within 2 weeks of the arrival.

So, as soon as you purchase your ticket to Tahiti, claim that aisle seat, wear those very attractive compressive stockings, and get ready to keep your calves and ankles moving throughout your flight. SAFE TRAVELS!

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Published by karenmsutton

HSS Orthopaedic surgeon in sports medicine | Mother of 4 amazing children | Team physician for USA Women's Lacrosse | ACL injury expert

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