When you travel by air you should be aware of an increased risk of thrombosis. The condition has been dubbed “Economy Class Syndrome,” as cramped seats suffered by economy passengers on long-haul flights make it difficult for blood in the legs to flow properly. It is a misleading phrase because people traveling first class, and even pilots have been affected. According to reports, three members of the British Olympic team suffered potentially fatal blood clots when flying to Australia for the Sydney Olympics. Thus, even strong, fit and healthy people can be susceptible to thrombosis when traveling by air. A Japanese doctor, Dr Toshiro Makino, says 25 people have died at Tokyo airports over the past eight years due to blood clots caused by cramped airline seating. A study by the Nippon Medical School clinic at Tokyo’s Narita airport found 100 to 150 passengers a year were treated at the clinic for the problem after arriving on long-distance flights. Of these cases, 50 to 60 were regarded as serious.
Factors that can increase the risk of thrombosis include thrombophilia (an underlying tendency to get blood clots), age (elderly passengers are more at risk), diet (overweight passengers are more at risk), aircraft (those with more dry, recirculated air may be a factor), and seating (economy class passengers are more at risk due to cramped seating). There are a number of suggestions for avoiding this problem:
- Seek advice from a physician before flying
- Wear compression stockings if you have a tendency towards significant swelling in the lower legs
- Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol
- Make yourself as comfortable as space allows
- Walk up and down the aisle when possible