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By Antonios P. Gasparis, MD, of the Stony Brook Vascular Surgery Division

Antonios P. Gasparis, MD
Dr. Antonios P. Gasparis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a leading cause of death in the world. There are several factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing a life-threatening condition.

The most common risk factors for DVT include previous DVT, recent surgery, hospitalization, trauma, birth control pills, clotting conditions, prolonged travel time, immobility, and cancer. When exposed to these risk factors, several precautions can be taken to help prevent a DVT.

For years, travelers’ blood clots have erroneously been nicknamed “economy class syndrome.” In fact, it is not the location of one’s seat on an airplane that increases the risk of DVT, but the prolonged immobility during any form of travel.

For example, NBC reporter David Bloom died of a blood clot he developed while cramped for hours in an army tank recovery vehicle as he was reporting the news on the Iraq war.

According to the newly released American College of Chest Physicians Guidelines, flights lasting 8 hours or more carry the highest risk.

Although some claims have been made that DVT risk is increased by airplane window seats, the truth is, it is not these particular seats that increase the risk of developing DVT, but the inherit limitation that window passengers have in moving around the airplane. Window passengers who use appropriate preventive measures have the same risk as other passengers.

Most important, any type of travel — not only air travel — that has prolonged immobility carries with it an increased DVT risk.

Prolonged immobility when traveling increases the risk of DVT because blood in the deep veins becomes sluggish, pools, and is more prone to form a clot. Therefore, during long travel it is important to decrease this risk by taking a few simple steps:

  • Doing frequent leg exercises
  • Walking in the aisle
  • Staying well hydrated
  • Using prescribed compression stockings (higher risk people)

All these steps increase the calf pressure, which helps expel venous blood out of the leg.

For more information about DVT and how to prevent it, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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