It’s long been recognized that extended air travel is very likely to increase the risk of deep vein thromboembolism (DVT). Basically, DVT is clot formation in legs due to limited blood circulation. In a seated position, there is usually very little leg movement and since the lower leg is routinely bent while sitting, the circulation can become compromised. This is particularly true if the flight lasts more than 4 hours and there is little opportunity to move (‘stretch the legs’). DVTs pose a significant healthcare risk as the clot can break free which may result in a pulmonary embolism. At the worst, this can be potentially life-threatening and routinely necessitates hospitalization and treatment with anticoagulants (ex. enoxaparin, Coumadin, Apixiban (Eliquis), Dabigatran (Pradaxa)).
A recent study reviewed the results of 11 randomized trials that had been conducted to determine the effects of wearing compression stockings versus not wearing them for preventing DVT. The results showed that there is high-quality evidence that airline passengers can expect a substantial reduction in symptom-less DVTs if they wear compression stockings. This study builds upon information gathered back in 2006. So the many pilots who have long used compression stockings on long flights have been doing the
right thing and all of us can benefit from this information.
To summarize, you can decrease your risk of developing a DVT on flights over 4 hours by getting up to walk around at least once an hour and by wearing compression stockings. Even though compression stockings are not positive fashion statements and take a little time to get used to, they really are not cumbersome and are a small price to pay to decrease the risk of a DVT,
Reference: Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Sep 14;9
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