Economy Class Syndrome
DEEP vein thrombosis (DVT), also known as 'Economy Class Syndrome' can strike anyone who is immobile for long periods of time. It's caused by a blood clot which forms in the leg, usually unnoticed, although it can cause stiffness and pain. If it breaks off and moves through the body, it can be fatal, particularly if it reaches the lungs.
John Smith, Labour MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, says it would be foolish to underestimate the potential problem of people who develop life-threatening blood clots on long-haul flights.
A recent study found that at least one person a month dies of DVT on arrival at London's Heathrow Airport. And Dr John Scurr of University College Hospital published a paper in the Lancet which reveals that blood tests carried out on long-haul passengers before and after long flights 'show a very definite link between long-haul flights and DVT.'
The dangers of being immobile have been recognised since the 1940s, and a report in 1968 warned of the dangers to air passengers.
Five years ago, the Aviation Health Institute advised the Government that three million people in this country have a genetic defect, Factor V Leiden, which increases their risk of developing a blood clot when flying, by eight times.
It has been suggested that passengers could have a blood test for the defect when they go for travel vaccinations. However, Professor Mike Greaves, professor of haematology at the University of Edinburgh, disagrees about the magnitude of the risk: 'The idea of screening to locate the five% or so of people with V Leiden, which will almost certainly never do any harm, is laughable. It will cost millions of pounds.'
Ministers have promised to initiate 'whatever research is necessary' to obtain a clear picture of the relationship between air travel and DVT, saying there would be new regulations to tackle the problem should they be deemed necessary.
- What you can do
Sitting immobile is the most critical problem. Lack of fresh air, dehydration and cramped seating may all contribute towards Economy Class Syndrome. Help yourself by walking around as much as possible. Wriggle your toes and rotate your ankles to help your blood circulate. Taking an aspirin before the flight will also thin the blood and help stop a clot from forming.