Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Traveling this Summer? Watch Out for the 'Economy Class Syndrome'

If you're traveling economy class this summer, you gotta know more about Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), also known as Economy Class Syndrome (ECS)! According to the WHO, 3 to 5 % of those who travel economy class for long hours increase their risk of developing DVT. 

So what is DVT? It's the formation of blood clots in the lower limbs - calves and thighs. DVT and clot formation risk are increased due to many factors such as genetics, advanced age, hormonal disturbances, obesity related factors, pregnancies and prolonged sitting such as bed rests. Clot formation may also increase during long flight hours -  it is largely affected by the fact that you're not moving as well as by airplanes' cabin pressure and oxygen state. The risk increases when you resume activity! The clot may break off, move through the circulation, reach the heart of lungs and obstruct their pathways, leading to death. This has actually happened back in 2000, when a passenger died due to DVT!

So to avoid leg, feet and thigh-swelling, bruising and numbness:

  • Make sure you are wearing very comfortable and loose clothes and shoes. The point is that when you are sitting for a long time, the effect of gravity restricts blood from flowing back from the legs' veins to the heart. Therefore, blood circulation slows down to your lower body and excess blood may accumulate forming clots. So wear loose clothes to decrease any circulation restriction.
  • It's OK [more like recommended] to take off your shoes during long hour flights, this will ensure normal blood flow into your lower limbs.
  • Do circular moves with your feet and ankles and flex both feet and knees at least every 15 to 20 minutes. You can also slide your feet forward and backwards
  • Don't just sit/sleep the whole flight, move around the plane at least every hour.
  • Stretch your whole body whenever you get the chance and don't cross over your legs while sitting, it will only impeded circulation more.
  • Hydrate yourself properly with water. People tend to forget to drink water during flights so have a small cup within reach at all times.
  • Now even though alcohol might be complimentary on the airplane, keep in mind that alcohol is a diuretic so it draws water from your body so limit its intake.
  • Caffeine is also considered a diuretic so limit large intake of any caffeinated beverages whether from coffee, energy drinks or soft drinks (like cokes).
  • You can also consider wearing compressing stockings, to aid proper circulation.

The risk of dangerous clotting is, in fact, minimal but it increases by 18 % for each 2-hour increase in your flight duration! So drink more, move as much as possible, and now after you have a 'healthy' flight, make sure you're in excellent shape to enjoy your vacation by reading Nadine Issa's "5 ways to stay fit while on vacation" article to make the best out of fun!

References:

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