The number of passengers traveling by air passing has reached record heights in 2015 by transporting over 2 billion souls. An average domestic flight lasts 2.5 hours, international averaging 6.5 hours and flights from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia lasting a whopping 14 hours. During those hours of reading, watching movies and having a pushing contest for the armrest with the person sitting next to you, your legs are probably not moving.
Sedentary air travel is more dangerous than when you’re at the office sitting down due to the environmental and physiological changes (recycled compressed air in the cabin) that occur during routine commercial flights that can lead to mild hypoxia and gas expansion. These changes exacerbate chronic medical conditions or incite acute in-flight medical events. One of the most concerning of these conditions is deep-vein thrombosis (DVT); otherwise known as blood clots or to frequent travelers, the “Economy-Class Syndrome.”
Sedentary sitting slows circulation, allowing blood to clot in the legs. You may be thinking that this won’t happen to you because you actively work out, right? Well bad news, Airhealth.org found that roughly 85% of blood clot victims are athletic; including NBA star Chris Bosh. Adding to that, a number of factors amplify these risks including (but not limited to) smoking, women taking birth control pills, selective estrogen receptor modulators, and postmenopausal hormones. Those who are battling cancer, heart disease, infections, pregnancy, obesity and those recovering from surgery are especially prone to the dangers of blood clots while traveling.
What makes blood clots so horrible is that they block blood flow in your arteries, cutting off oxygen from the heart to your legs. With a full blood clot scenario, the best case scenario, you only suffer from a shortness of breath. Worst case scenario is when the clot breaks free from its place of origin and decides it wants to travel around to your body.
The blood clot begins traveling around your circulatory system it can cause heart attacks (blocks blood to the heart), strokes (blocks blood to the brain) or a pulmonary embolism. Given most people understand heart attacks and strokes, we will dive a little deeper into pulmonary embolisms. PE occurs when a blood clot is lodged in one of the pulmonary arteries supplying blood to the lungs. Symptoms include rapid breathing, pain when breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain that travels up to the shoulder, fever, and fainting. This is an extremely serious medical condition and if you experience any of these symptoms while traveling, or even a couple of days after traveling, you need to find professional medical help pronto.
There are some things that you can do to help prevent blood clots that may keep you in the clear. First, this is a page dedicated to our Kickstarter that is coming out on January 4th, 2016, so here is a shameless plug. The PediGlide fits in the vast majority of airplanes and keeps your major leg muscle groups highly active throughout your flight. Keeping your muscles active keeps blood flow up which could possibly keep blood clotting down.
However, in the meantime, here are other preventative options you can do to stop clots from forming.
- If you’re not at risk for bleeding and can tolerate aspirin, take a baby aspirin (81 milligrams) one-half hour before takeoff
- Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes
- Avoid crossing your legs while seated
- Get up from your seat and walk up and down the aisle at least once an hour. If you’re pregnant, request an aisle seat so that you can get up easily
- Drink at least 8 ounces of water every hour or two and avoid alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and salty foods
- Keep the space under the seat in front of you empty so you can move your feet and ankles occasionally
- If you have any risk factors for deep-vein blood clots, consult your clinician. She or he may suggest support socks or stockings
The PediGlide team is excited to help join the fight against sedentary sitting, especially on long flights. We will be using the funds from our Kickstarter to study the health benefits to keeping your legs active throughout the day and in any sitting situation. There is not silver bullet against blood clots forming while on long flights, but by keeping your legs active while flying could possibly drastically lower your chances.