If you spend much time on commercial airlines, for business or pleasure, you’re no doubt well aware of a condition called deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), in which blood clots in your legs can travel through your bloodstream to your lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism. You may have heard that these potentially deadly clots are brought on by the cramped legroom in the economy-class section. Well, according to new findings by the American College of Chest Physicians, it just ain’t so. What causes blood clots to form is not lack of space — it’s lack of movement.
So here’s what the docs recommend when you’re on a flight of four to six hours or longer:
- Whenever possible, opt for an aisle seat, which gives you increased mobility over a window location.
- Stand up frequently at your seat, and walk around the cabin at least once an hour — every 20 to 30 minutes is better. Stretch your calves as you go, and do a few waist bends and arm circles if you can.
- When you can’t leave your seat, at least move your feet and legs every 20 to 30 minutes. Flex your feet and ankles, and lift your knees toward your chest so that your feet rise slightly off the floor.
- If you’re at high risk for DVT, wear below-the-knee graduated compression stockings (available online and in most pharmacies and medical supply stores).
If you have a heart condition or circulation problems, consult with your doctor before you take a long flight. After you reach your destination, even if you’re in the pink of health, watch for signs of a blood clot in your legs. Get medical help if you notice pain or tenderness, warmth, redness, or swelling in your calf. And if you experience shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, stabbing pain in your chest, or an unexplained cough, hightail it to the ER — those are all symptoms of a pulmonary embolism.