Frequent flying has become a regular part of many people’s lifestyles. Flying regularly on business trips or visiting family and friends may sound like “no big deal” to most of us. Therefore it may also not be the first thought on one’s mind that there could be health risks associated with long-distance travel. We are talking about a health risk that can sneak up on you without you suspecting it.
The sneaky part is that while you are sitting immobile for long hours in a confined space such as in the tight quarters of an airplane on a long-distance flight there is a possibility that a blood clot could form in one of the deeper veins of your body.
A well-known term that has been coined for the risk of developing blood clots during air travel is “Economy Class Syndrome”. The most likely place for a blood clot to occur would be in your leg(s). The medical term for the formation of a blood clot in the veins is called deep vein thrombosis or DVT.
It is estimated that over the course of just one year in the United States alone approximately 1 million people develop blood clots. In addition, more than 150,000 individuals die as a result of pulmonary embolisms, which are blood clots that become lodged in the lungs.
Another problem associated with prolonged immobility while sitting or standing for long periods of time is fluid retention in the legs (edema). Muscle inactivity can lead to a situation where for example the calf muscles no longer function as a muscle pump helping to circulate blood back up your legs to the heart.
Blood clots can become serious and even life-threatening within a very short time depending on where they are located in your body. For example, a blood clot that has been dislodged in one of the deeper veins of the legs can travel all the way to the lungs, where it can block the blood flow of newly oxygenated blood (medically termed as pulmonary embolism) and become deadly if it cannot be dissolved in time with emergency medical intervention.
Some airlines discuss these health risks and issues during air travel openly on their websites or in customer information materials and recommend wearing compression stockings to improve blood circulation based on the recommendations of your physician.
Pilots and flight attendants have long known about the above-stated dangers and conditions. Many of them are regularly wearing compression stockings as a preventative measure against blood clots, swelling, aching, fatigue and cramping in the legs during their shifts on long flights. Actual research studies with flight attendants have further proven the benefits and effectiveness of wearing graduated compression stockings of lower pressure classifications (8-15 or 15-20 mm/hg).
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Like with everything else concerning your health and well-being, always talk to your physician first before making any changes such as wearing compression stockings and find out if they can benefit you.