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Air travel and blood clots

​​​​​​​​Myth: Flying in economy class increases blood clot risk on long flights.

myth busterFear of flying need not extend to worries about getting a blood clot. That’s according to recent research findings released by the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP).

New evidence-based guidelines of the ACCP address some of the risk factors linked to developing a blood clot, also called deep vein thrombosis. Researchers found no compelling evidence linking economy class air travel to the development of deep vein thrombosis. However, researchers caution that being immobile for long periods on a flight is a risk factor.

“I think the general public is aware that being immobile on prolonged flights does increase the risk for blood clots,” said Oncologist/Hematologist Michael Husak, M.D.​, Marshfield Clinic Rice Lake Center. The ACCP guidelines mirror what Dr. Husak tells his patients. “You can certainly lower blood clot risk by moving around the plane and squeezing calf muscles while seated.”

For flights longer than eight to 10 hours, the ACCP points out several factors that may increase a traveler’s risk of developing deep vein thrombosis, including a previous blood clot, cancer, recent surgery or trauma, being immobile, estrogen use, pregnancy and sitting in a window seat. “Those in window seats are less inclined to get up and inconvenience another passenger sitting nearby,” said Oncologist/Hematologist Elena Theodosiou, M.D., Marshfield Clinic Marshfield Center.

For travelers with an increased risk for travel-related deep vein thrombosis, the guidelines recommend frequent walking around the plane, calf muscle stretching, sitting in an aisle seat if possible or using compression stockings.

The study also reported no definitive link between dehydration and drinking alcohol during the flight as increasing the risk for blood clots.​​