The most recent patient my age travelled across two continents in a long flight. When she returned home she noticed she had aching legs and afterwards some shortness of breath. But she never sought medical attention until she had a massive stroke that caused a large amount of damage to her brain. She has a huge deficit and is completely dependent. Investigations showed she had numerous blood clots in her legs, lungs and of course the one that moved to her brain.
I am well aware of the risks of developing blood clots in airplanes and always wear support hose during a flight. But many people are not and I was surprised that some of our staff members did not appreciate the connection. Blood clots can quickly develop with immobility. Most of our patients remain on low-molecular heparin after hip and knee surgery until they are up and about regularly on their own. One of our good friends was hospitalized with pneumonia this year. He was discharged home, developed swelling in one leg, but didn't know the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis. He was rushed to hospital and ended up in ICU with a pulmonary embolism a couple of days later.
Our medical director, Dr. Anne Crowe, published this case study about another patient in our facility who had a stroke after a relatively short plane journey. Plane travel is common and seating in the economy sections is tighter than ever. This information could save your life or the life of others. The following information is from mdtravelhealth.com.
Risk factors for deep vein thrombosis include
- previous history of deep vein thrombosis
- chronic swelling of the legs or feet
- varicose veins
- use of estrogen or raloxifene (Evista)
- advanced age
- recent hospitalization or surgery
To prevent the development of blood clots on long plane flights, the following measures are recommended:
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing.
- Do not place hand luggage where it may limit leg movement.
- Walk about the cabin at regular intervals.
- Perform isometric compressions of the leg muscles (i.e. contract the leg muscles periodically while sitting).
- Avoid crosssing your legs.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
- For those with any of the above risk factors, wear compression stockings, which can be purchased in most drug stores.