Thrombosis is one of the dangers of long-haul flying. If you are going on a long haul flight in the near future then it is important that you understand the possible risks to your health. Although some people are more susceptible than others, thrombosis can affect anybody.
What is Thrombosis?
Thrombosis is the formation of blood clots within blood vessels. Clotting is a natural process which the body should perform in places where there is an injury. It should help to prevent blood loss and healing; however it can have serious consequences if the clots form in the wrong place.
A clot can slow or completely stop blood flow to the area. The consequences can be particularly severe if the clot blocks the flow of blood to a major organ. It is possible for a clot to dislodge from its original site and then travel to another location in the body.
Rad more about what is thrombosis here.
Why is thrombosis associated with air travel?
Although some people are more likely to suffer from thrombosis due to genetic factors, anyone can be affected by the condition. Diet, lifestyle and environmental factors can all increase a person’s likelihood of developing thrombosis. Air travel can create the “perfect storm” for thrombosis, especially for those who are predisposed to suffer from unnecessary clotting.
Those who travel in economy class seating are even more likely to develop problems, due to the cramped seating conditions. Low legroom seats force passengers to sit still for long periods in a position which can affect the blood flow. The way that this sort of seating bends the knees can make it very difficult for blood to flow freely. It compresses the popliteal vein in the back of the knees, which creates the perfect site for clot formation.
The atmospheric conditions on a plane also put people at an increased risk of clot formation. The lower cabin pressure in the plane actually affects the speed of the blood flow around the body. This is exacerbated by the lower oxygen levels and the lower levels of humidity (dry air) which are also associated with airplane cabins.
Is alcohol a contributing factor?
Many people enjoy a few drinks whilst they are on an airplane, because this helps them to feel more relaxed during the flight, however; drinking alcohol whilst flying can further increase the risk of developing a blood clot in fliers who are already susceptible. More alcohol in the blood affects they way that it clots. Similarly, fliers who fail to drink enough water during a flight may also be putting themselves at risk.
Do delays put passengers at higher risk?
Anything that forces air passengers to remain seated can increase the risks that they face. Flight delays which occur once the passenger is already on the plane can make passengers particularly susceptible. When planes are delayed on the tarmac, the flight crew often request that passengers remain seated so that the plane can be ready for takeoff at short notice. However, this increases the amount of time that passengers are required to spend in cramped conditions.
In order to protect passengers, airlines should allow passengers to remain free to move if they are aware that the flight delay is likely to be a significant one. Failure to do this may be considered to be a breach of the airlines duty of care to passengers who could then claim flight delay compensation.
Ways to reduce risk during air travel
Passengers can reduce the risks that they face during air travel by making certain changes whilst they are travelling. Loose, comfortable clothes for flying can help to reduce the likelihood that the blood flow will be altered due to constriction. Some airlines provide fliers with special flight socks when they are on long journeys. These special socks are designed to reduce the risks of DVT. Flight socks are also available from most high street pharmacies.
During the flight, travellers should make sure that they get up and move around at regular intervals. If it is not possible to stand up and walk around, then travellers should still try to engage in seated anti-DVT exercise. Simple ankle circles are a great way to help to keep the blood moving around the lower legs and feet. Leg raises which involve lifting and straightening the leg can help passengers to reduce the risks associated with keeping the knees bent. Rolling the shoulders whilst seated also helps to keep blood flowing in the upper body.
If you know that you are in a high risk group for DVT, you should consult with your doctor or specialist before taking any long haul flights. They may be able to provide special advice to help to reduce the risks. In some case, they may advise against flying. In these cases, travel insurance is unlikely to cover any medical costs if you still decides to take the trip.