Good advice for long flights

Long flights can be hard on the body and the SOS International medical practitioners have prepared a selection of good advice for travellers. Travellers, who already suffer from health problems, should always consult their medical practitioner prior to embarking on long flights.

During long flights, where passengers sit still for many hours, the blood can come to a standstill in the deep veins of the lower legs. This can contribute to passengers developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (blood clots in the veins of the legs). The risk of developing DVT is very small; however, the risk increases during air travel of more than 4 hours duration, especially for passengers who are subject to other risk factors for the development of DVT.

General advice when flying

  • Be as active as possible during the flight.
  • It is recommended to get up and walk around every hour and move your feet frequently while sitting down.
  • Drink a lot but be careful with alcohol and coffee.
  • Avoid taking sleeping pills.

How to avoid blood clots

Because dehydration also contributes to the development of DVT, it is very important to drink plenty of water during a flight. In addition, alcohol and coffee should be imbibed with caution as both have a diuretic effect. Sleeping pills can cause long periods of immobility. Therefore, it is recommended that passengers who are at risk of developing DVT avoid taking sleeping pills. Knee-high elastic support stockings have been proven to help prevent DVT on long-haul flights, while also preventing oedema in the lower legs, from which many passengers suffer during air travel.

Conditions leading to a slightly increased risk:

  • Age 40+ years
  • Serious varicose veins
  • Obesity (BMI> 30)
  • Recently performed keyhole operation
  • Recently bedridden (> 3 days)

RECOMMENDATIONS: Preventative measures are not required. Elastic support stockings may be worn.

Conditions leading to a moderately increased risk:

  • Prior DVT
  • Late pregnancy/first weeks post-natal
  • Moderate heart failure
  • Severe breathing difficulties
  • Severe infectious disease(s) in recent weeks
  • Blood disorders or conditions causing increased coagulation
  • Treatment with oestrogen, including birth control pills
  • Lower-leg surgery, including endoscopic surgery

 RECOMMENDATIONS: Elastic support stockings.

Conditions leading to increased risk:

  • Severe fractures in leg bones or pelvis
  • Serious injuries, especially to the pelvis
  • Recent hip or knee surgery with artificial knee or hip
  • Recent major surgery
  • Cancer, especially during chemotherapy
  • Blood disorders or conditions causing severe coagulation
  • Severe heart failure
  • Previous blood clots in the lungs

RECOMMENDATIONS: Support stockings and prophylaxis with low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH) injected subcutaneously 2-4 hours before the flight. Of course, this should only be given if the patient does not receive anticoagulant treatment.

Individuals subject to more than one risk factor should be assessed individually. Similarly, a flight in excess of 8 hours can change the risk profile of older and immobile passengers.

The above recommendations are for guidance only. In case of questions or doubt, always consult your medical practitioner.

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Are you travelling and in need of acute assistance?

Contact SOS International's alarm centre on +45 7010 5050.

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