Posted 12:59 AM ET, May 14, 2001.
England — Long-haul flights can lead to potentially serious
blood clots, but travellers can reduce the risk of clotting by
wearing below-the-knee elastic compression stockings, experts
Dr. John Scurr, a British vascular surgeon who conducted a study
of flying and deep vein thrombosis (DVT), said any immobility
for long periods of time can lead to blood clots.
``Blood clots are associated with long-distance travel,'' he
told a news conference. ``The risk of a serious problem is very
DVT, dubbed ``economy class syndrome'' because of the cramped
conditions on planes, are blood clots that form in major blood
vessels, usually in the leg. The condition can be fatal if part
of the clot dislodges and travels to the brain or lung.
News that a 28-year-old woman died of the problem after a flight
from Australia to Britain last year made international headlines
and caused alarm among air passengers.
Scurr's research, reported in The Lancet, is the first study in
which passengers were examined before and after long flights.
``It shows a very definite link between long-haul flying and the
development of small thromboses clots,'' the surgeon at the
Middlesex Hospital in London said. ``One in 10 people are at
risk of developing a small blood clot.''
Most of the small clots resolve themselves, but some could
progress to larger clots and require treatment, he explained.
Scurr and his team studied 230 people, all over the age of 50,
who took flights lasting more than 8 hours. The passengers were
randomly divided into two groups. Half the travelers wore
compression stockings and half did not.
Using a very sensitive ultrasound technique, the investigators
detected very small blood clots in 10% of people who did not
wear the stockings but none in those who did were the stockings.
``The advantage of wearing elastic stockings is that it stops
even tiny clots starting,'' Scurr told Reuters.
Most of the people had no symptoms and were unaware that they
had the small blood clots. A few of the passengers required
treatment with blood thinners.
Scurr recommends using compression stockings, which are sold in
medical supply stores, to avoid blood clots during long-haul
Although the researchers studied passengers on long flights,
they said the results could apply to any method of travel that
causes long periods of immobility.
``It can affect anybody, using any means of transport, if they
sit long enough,'' said Scurr. But he added that the elderly and
people with previous blood clotting problems were at greater
``Flying is very safe for the majority of people but there are
some people at risk and it is difficult to identify them,''
The research will form the basis of a much larger study
undertaken with the World Health Organization. Scurr said the
new research could begin later this year and the first results
will be available in about 18 months to 2 years.
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