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Friday, January 20, 2017

A Health Risk when Taking a Trip by Plane

Are you planning a trip by plane? Traveling by air may be the fastest way to get there, but it could also increase your risk of getting a deadly blood clot. According to researchers at the University of London, the risk of a blood clot doesn’t drop as soon as you step off the plane, but remains high for up to four weeks after the trip is over.

This isn’t the first time that taking a trip by plane has been associated with an elevated risk of blood clot. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that air travel elevated the risk of blood clot by up to three times. It doesn’t have to be a long trip to increase the risk of a deadly blood clot. Trips as short as four hours were associated with a higher risk.

Why is taking a trip by plane so risky when it comes to blood clots? One of the main risk factors for a blood clot, otherwise known as DVT or deep venous thrombosis, is not moving around for long periods of time. During air travel most people sit in one place for prolonged periods, particularly on overseas trips. With prolonged sitting, blood can pool in the legs leading to activation of clotting factors and formation of a blood clot. This can occur anytime a person sits in one place without moving their extremities – even on car trips. It was once thought that the low air pressure found in the cabin of planes and jets contributed to the risk of blood clots, but studies now show this doesn’t seem to be a factor. It’s the lack of movement and the pooling of blood in the extremities that increases the risk.

The chief danger of getting a blood clot is that the clot can move to the lungs – giving rise to a pulmonary emboli or PE which can be fatal. Signs of a blood clot in the extremities include swelling of the calf or thigh muscle, calf tenderness, redness or discoloration of the leg, and leg warmth. When a blood clot moves to the lung it can cause shortness of breath and chest pain, and is a true medical emergency.

Certain people have a higher risk of a blood clot related to travel. People who are obese, pregnant, taking birth control pills or hormones, or who have certain inherited clotting factor abnormalities are more prone to developing them. Some ways to reduce the risk of a blood clot when traveling is to move around as much as possible by making frequent stops; and get up out of your seat every hour to walk around during a trip by plane. Doing exercises to stretch the legs and calves also keeps blood from pooling in the feet and legs. It’s also important to drink lots of water and avoid smoking. If you have a history of a blood clot or are at high risk for one, talk to your doctor before traveling. He or she may recommend special compression stockings to reduce the risk of a blood clot when you’ll be confined to a seat for long periods of time. Be aware of this risk and be prepared next time you take a trip by plane or car.


Family Practice News. Sept. 1, 2009. page 17.

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