Medical experts and airline representatives agreed that there is likely a relationship between long-haul flights and deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The agreement occurred earlier this week at a meeting sponsored by the World Health Organization. Following the consensus, they decided to launch a three-part study to learn more about the deadly combination.
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.
Among the factors that elevate a person’s risk for DVT are recent surgery, pregnancy, obesity, childbirth, certain medications, birth control pills, trauma, or prolonged periods of bed rest. Long-haul flights often leave passengers sitting in cramped quarters for a long period of time. Some researchers postulate that passenger inactivity combined with the unique air and pressure conditions in the cabin may lead to an increased risk of DVT.
The three-part study will likely take several years, and will include studies from tens of thousands of passengers. The first study will try to ascertain the actual incidence of blood clots in airline passengers. The second study will focus on factors such as cabin pressure and oxygen levels to determine whether airplanes themselves provide a specific risk. The third study will look at the use of preventative measures, including compression stockings, exercise, and blood-thinning agents.
Recent deaths due to DVT have made headlines in the news in the last few months. As a result, experts have been educating the public about effective preventative measures against the disease. Such measures include exercising feet and legs while seated to improve circulation. They also recommend avoiding alcohol and drinking plenty of water, to avoid dehydration.