A Possible Reason to Fly First Class: 'Economy Class Syndrome'
"Fliers who take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy may be at increased risk because estrogen increases the risk of clotting," he tells WebMD.
When you sit for a long time without contracting the muscles in your legs, blood can pool in the veins resulting in deep vein thrombosis; that's why getting up and walking around the plane is the best way to prevent a clot from forming, he says.
"If you can't walk [during the] flight, flex your ankle up and down, as if you are stepping on the accelerator in the car," Adelman says. "Do this exercise about 20 times every two to four hours you are in flight."
Another problem: Plane air is dry, and fliers can easily become dehydrated. "When you are dehydrated, your blood becomes thicker, increasing risk of clots," he says. So try to drink an eight-ounce glass of water every two hours and avoid alcohol and coffee when flying, as they are dehydrating, he says.
Adelman wears compression hose when he travels and suggests other fliers do the same. They are available over-the-counter at surgical supply stores and cost about $15 per pair. Such support hose work by keeping blood from stagnating.
Taking an aspirin before flight may be of some benefit as well, he adds. Aspirin is a known blood thinner.
But some medical experts, including Louis D. Fiore, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and public health at the Boston University School of Medicine and School of Public Health and the chief of oncology at the VA Boston Health Care System, have their doubts about economy class syndrome.
"There are multiple risk factors for developing blood clots in the leg," he says. "There are genetic risk factors and then superimposed on that are environmental risk factors such as having surgery or a trauma," he tells WebMD.
But "flying is a very minor risk factor," Fiore says. "Immobilization in the absence of illness is a low risk for deep vein thrombosis. If immobilization on a airplane flight is enough to put you over the edge, something else will do it will first."