Can Flying in a Planes Window Seat Increase DVT?

If you’ve seen the movie ‘snakes on a plane’ you may feel like you never want to fly again.

However millions of Americans and people from the rest of the developed world rely on air travel both for business and leisure purposes, and giving up flying is simply not an option for most travellers.

Safest Seats on the plane

A UK study of 105 air accidents conducted by the British Civil Aviation Authority has concluded that the safest seat to occupy when flying is one within five rows of an emergency exit. This research applies to the chances of surviving an accident or other emergency situation. But what about other factors, such as health-related concerns, especially your in-flight heart and circulatory system health ? What are the most unsafe seats on the plane ?

Most Unsafe Airplane Seats for DVT

Well, apparently if you occupy a seat by the window, this doubles your risk of suffering from a potentially fatal DVT (deep vein thrombosis), or blood clot, according to a new study carried out by scientists from Leiden University Medical centre in Holland, and published by the British Journal of Haematology. If you sit in an aisle seat, then statistically there is no increased risk of DVT.

Another conclusion from the report suggests that the risks are even greater if the travellers are overweight or obese. If you fall into this category, and you occupy a window seat, then your chances of developing blood clots in the leg are an alarming six times greater than if you had been seated next the aisle. Also, flying Business Class helps to reduce the occurrence of deep vein thrombosis symptoms by up to thirty percent, according to the study. Another major factor involved the length of the flight, with long haul flights topping the list of the highest risk options. There are a number of possible explanations for the findings :-

Reasons for Window Seat Related DVT

There are a number of possible theories for why the window seat occupancy may be responsible for the increased prevalence of DVT and blood clotting, as follows :-Passengers fall asleep more easily if they sit by the window

  1. sleeping for an extended period on a long haul flight increases the chance of developing a blood clot due to inactivity
  2. Window seats usually involve sitting or sleeping in a more restricted position
  3. Window seats offer less opportunity to move around the cabin and get exercise, without disturbing other passengers
  4. The most serious DVT problems come if the blood clot migrates through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it can cause a blockage known as a pulmonary embolism
  5. Traditional DVT prevention methods may be less effective for window seat occupation

Some surprising aspects emerging from the study are that tried and trusted traditional methods used forpreventing air travel related DVT may not be as effective as has been thought for window seat occupying passengers.

Air travellers have increasingly been advised to :-

  • wear elastic stockings during the flight
  • avoid alcohol
  • drink plenty of water

However the Leiden University research suggests that drinking plenty of water (or tea) during the flight made no difference to the risk of DVT, and amazingly, wearing elasticated stockings actually increased the risk of developing a DVT. Just to buck the trend completely having a small amount of alcohol – a single alcoholic drink appeared to protect against developing a blood clot.

British Heart Foundation Reaction and Advice:

It is interesting to note the reaction of the British heart Foundation (BHF) to this research. Professor Jeremy Pearson, from the BHF commented that ‘There were not enough passengers in this study to conclude anything dramatic. All the current guidance to passengers is based on common sense.’ This is apparently due the limited scale of the passenger numbers, with a total of 188 passenger medical diagnoses, of which 80 people had contracted a DVT and the remainder had not.

The current air travel advice from the British Heart Foundation website is as follows :-

‘There is a low risk of developing a DVT while travelling by air. Do not take aspirin or any other medication to thin the blood without first getting advice from your doctor. If you have previously had a DVT or a clot in your lungs, or if you have recently had surgery under general anaesthetic, you have a higher risk of getting DVT than other people, and you should get medical advice before flying. Your doctor will give you advice on how to prevent a DVT while travelling by air based on your individual medical condition. If you have been advised to wear compression travel socks, it is important that you have your legs measured to help you to choose the right size. If the socks are very tight, they can do more harm than good’.

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