Long-haul flights increase the risk of thrombosis

As temperatures fall, many people decide to head for warmer destinations. However, long-haul flights always involve an increased risk of thrombosis. In this health tip you can find out how to minimise the risk of thrombosis during long-distance travel.
As the temperatures fall here, many people decide to head for warmer holiday destinations. However, this generally means long journey times, with flights lasting for ten hours or more. It’s true that planes are getting bigger all the time, but passenger numbers are also growing steadily. This leads to cramped seating and restricted knee room. The longer a journey lasts, the higher the risk of thrombosis.

Thrombosis is a condition in which a blood clot forms in a vein.

If we have an accident and suffer an injury, the body's coagulation system ensures that we do not bleed to death. Of course, this is a good thing as the blood coagulates and seals the wound. However, blood can also coagulate in blood vessels which are not injured. A thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms in a blood vessel and blocks the circulation. This interrupts the supply of blood – and hence oxygen – to the organs. In the worst case this can lead to a pulmonary embolism, a heart attack or a stroke. Cramped seating and long periods spent sitting tend to encourage the formation of blood clots, primarily in the legs and groin area. Small clots can then wander from these locations to vital organs such as the lungs, brain or heart. Here are some tips on how to avoid developing blood clots in the legs – on long-haul flights, for example.

Exercise, loose clothing and enough liquids

The keys to success are to exercise the leg muscles, to wear loose clothing over the legs and thighs, and to drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverages. If possible, you should get out of your seat every two hours and take a walk up and down the aisle of the plane. Walking stimulates circulation in the legs. While seated you can do foot exercises and contraction and relaxation exercises of the thighs and calves. It is also important to take on enough fluids by drinking a glass of water (approx. half a pint) every two hours. Airline passengers need to drink plenty of fluids because the air in planes is extremely dry. A loss of fluids means that the blood becomes thicker and this in turn increases the risk of developing a clot. Wearing compression stockings on long-haul flights can also be beneficial. Your pharmacist will be happy to advise you about all the options. You should avoid taking sleeping pills because you may sleep through the flight and fail to follow the advice. The general rule is that you should wear light, loose, comfortable clothing for air travel. This will ensure that blood flow in the legs is not restricted.

High-risk travellers

If you think that the above advice for reducing risk may be inadequate in your case, you should speak to your doctor. Individuals who are aged 60+, overweight, or pregnant as well as those who have a pre-existing vascular disorder (e.g. varicose veins) or a genetic predisposition are at increased risk. If you have previously undergone an operation, been immobilised for a significant period or use hormonal contraception, it can make sense to consider thrombosis prevention options before you travel. A doctor will be able to give advice to at-risk patients and may prescribe medicine to be taken orally or injected. Medication for injection can be injected by the patient into the upper thigh two hours before the flight.

In the event of further health-related questions, SWICA customers can contact the santé24 telemedicine service free of charge on +41 44 404 86 86. A telemedicine practice licence allows santé24 physicians to provide additional medical services in cases that are suited to a telemedicine approach. SWICA customers can also use the BENECURA medical app to carry out a digital SymptomCheck and receive recommendations about what to do next. During a subsequent phone call with santé24, customers can decide for themselves whether to release their information from SymptomCheck to santé24.