Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Keep that blood pumping when you're on a plane

You may find it easier to walk with your new hip or knee replacement, but watch out the next time you have to sit still for several hours on an airplane. • According to research just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, you might want to take a blood thinner, or at least a baby aspirin, before getting on an airplane so blood clots won't form in your legs as you sit for hours in a cramped seat, barely able to move. • The risk of blood clots in the legs, known as deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT, goes up for everyone on airplanes. The condition often goes unnoticed, but severe cases can cause painful swelling and inflammation, often behind the knee. If a large clot breaks loose, it could travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism — a medical emergency that can lead to death.

The best way to lower risk remains the simplest: Get up and walk at least every couple of hours while you're in the air. This advice becomes even more important as people get older, since the risk of DVT goes up with age.

People who get a knee or hip replacement, however, become even more prone to DVT, according to the new research, but a blood thinner reduces risk.

One study led by Diana M. Sobieraj, a professor of pharmacy at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, found that prolonged treatment with blood thinners reduced the risk of blood clots and pulmonary embolism in people who had major orthopedic surgery, such as a joint replacement or hip surgery.

Another study in the same issue found that a class of anticoagulant drugs known as oral direct factor Xa inhibitors provided slightly better protection against DVT.

"Our review showed that the difference in terms of efficacy between the classic drugs for preventing thrombosis after hip or knee replacement and these new drugs is quite small," said Dr. Ignacio Neumann of McMaster University in Canada. "But the big advantage is the direct factor Xa inhibitors are pills, while the low molecular weight heparins are injections."

He also said that better surgical techniques and postsurgical physical therapy, along with new anticoagulants, have reduced the risk of DVT in people who have had a joint replacement. Among people who receive a joint replacement and receive blood thinners, "probably only 1 patient in 100 will have a thrombosis in the 3 months after surgery," Neumann said.

But DVT isn't the only threat you face when you get on an airplane.

Although airplanes are pressurized, cabin pressure tends to drop at high altitudes, which means you'll inhale less oxygen with each breath — a potential problem for passengers with cardiovascular disease, according to Australian physicians James A. Low and Daniel K.Y. Chan, who have written a paper on the strains that air travel places on the aging body. Prolonged low oxygen conditions also could produce changes in thinking, they add, and cause fainting, which is one of the most common in-flight medical emergencies, especially among the elderly.

Low cabin pressure also may allow expansion of gases in body cavities such as the sinuses, the middle ear, intestines and even the teeth. This can cause pain.

Low humidity can dry out the eyes and the nasal membranes and cause dehydration. Drinking water helps, according to Low and Chan, but you might want to avoid alcohol and diuretics to reduce trips to the bathroom.

Also, prolonged sitting, besides increasing the risk of DVT, can aggravate arthritis and cause swelling in the lower leg.

"More older people are traveling by air, and most will complete their journeys uneventfully," Low and Chan write. "Certain actions may help to minimize problems."

Tom Valeo writes frequently about health matters. He can be reached at

Keep that blood pumping when you're on a plane 09/26/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 2:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump fallout: Bucs' DeSean Jackson to make 'statement' Sunday


    Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson said Saturday that he will make a "statement" before today's game against the Vikings in response to President Donald Trump's comment that owners should "fire" players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) makes a catch during the first half of an NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017.
  2. Kriseman invites Steph Curry to St. Pete on Twitter


    Mayor Rick Kriseman is no stranger to tweaking President Donald Trump on social media.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter Saturday evening to wade into President Donald Trump's latest social media scuffle
  3. Death toll, humanitarian crisis grow in Puerto Rico


    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A humanitarian crisis grew Saturday in Puerto Rico as towns were left without fresh water, fuel, power or phone service following Hurricane Maria's devastating passage across the island.

    Crew members assess electrical lines in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Friday in Puerto Rico. Mobile communications systems are being flown in but “it’s going to take a while.”
  4. N. Korea says strike against U.S. mainland is 'inevitable'


    North Korea's foreign minister warned Saturday that a strike against the U.S. mainland is "inevitable" because President Donald Trump mocked leader Kim Jong Un with the belittling nickname "little rocketman."

  5. All-eyes photo gallery: Florida State Seminoles loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack


    View a gallery of images from the Florida State Seminoles 27-21 loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack Saturday in Tallahassee. The Seminoles will face Wake Forest on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    Florida State Seminoles fans sing the fight song during the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  At the half, North Carolina State Wolfpack 17, Florida State Seminoles 10.