The risk of developing the potentially fatal condition deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on long haul flights has become a major concern for many travelers. Research indicates that there is a direct correlation between the incidence of deep vein thrombosis and travelers on long-haul flights. Yesterday, scientists released new research that indicates anxiety over flying might actually contribute to the development of deep vein thrombosis.
DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in a large vein. The clot may interfere with circulation, causing painful cramps in the affected area. Sometimes, part of the clot breaks away from the embolus, or the entire embolus dislodges, and the clot travels through the bloodstream. The danger in DVT is that the clot may lodge in a blood vessel in an organ and interfere with its function. When the clot blocks a blood vessel in the lungs, a condition known as thromboembolism, the results can be fatal.
Previously, the major factors that have been linked to a person’s risk for DVT are recent surgery, pregnancy, obesity, childbirth, birth control pills, certain medications, trauma, or prolonged periods of bed rest. The development of DVT in long-haul flyers has been referred to as “economy class syndrome” due to the fact that cramped conditions and confined spaces have been thought to be the largest contributing factor to the development of clots.
The most recent theory by Peter Hughes, founder of Hughes D.V.T Research, indicates that the primary cause is the anxiety and stress of flying. Hughes believes that the stress experienced by many flyers results in an increase in the production of adrenalin. The increase in adrenalin causes the constriction of the venous blood supply, which can result in the formation of thrombosis in the legs of vulnerable passengers. This theory is premised around the physiological “fight or flight” response, which is an automatic involuntary response in the body when it senses danger.
While Hughes is not a doctor, he has spent years researching deep vein thrombosis and has developed an anti-DVT exercise condition and compression stockings. Hughes is urging airlines and government agencies to further investigate this hypothesis and feels that there needs to be more fundamental research into the causes of DVT.
Until further research is done in this area, there are precautions that travelers can take that address the theories that blood clots most commonly form as a result of being in confined spaces. These include:
DVT affects up to 30,000 long-haul travelers a year and may be responsible for as amny as 100 deaths. As Hughes’s research continues, this theory could prove to play a key factor in how travelers prepare for trips and how doctors treat nervous flyers. In the meantime, it is important for travelers to stay educated and take precautionary measures against blood clots.
- Sit on an aisle for extra leg room
- Get up and walk at least once per hour
- Massage your feet, ankles, legs, and knees while seated to stimulate blood circulation
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated; avoid alcohol and caffeine for the same reason
- Wear loose clothing; avoid clothing that is tight below the knees
- High-risk flyers should consult a doctor to see if taking aspirin before a flight to thin the blood will be beneficial