Will flying give you a blood clot?


It feels like every couple of months there is a tragic news article of a life-ending too soon after developing a blood clot after a long plane flight.  Thankfully, these are rare occurrences but it is enough to make you wonder if you are putting yourself at risk every time you board a plane. 

Blood clots, also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), occur in fewer than 1 million people each year.  Most individuals, therefore, have an incredibly low risk of developing DVT, but certain characteristics and actions can put you more at risk.

Risk factors for developing DVT:

  • Being female
  • Taking oral contraceptives
  • Pregnancy
  • Older age
  • Current smokers
  • Immobility

Blood clots due to plane travel were first noticed way back in 1951.  Since then, air travel has become even more common and more accessible, leading to even greater numbers of reported DVT.  A study of studies, called a systematic review, looked at how much plane travel increases the risk of DVT and found that passengers on flights longer than 4 hours were at 2-4 times greater risk.  Good news is that even with this dramatically increased risk, the number of people getting clots is still so low that prevention measures aren’t recommended unless you have additional risk factors.

For frequent travelers or those with risk factors listed above, wearing compression socks have been shown to be an effective way to prevent DVT.  Experts recommend wearing the socks for the entire day of your long flight, rather than just for the flight itself.  This has been shown to reduce the number of DVTs experienced by travelers up to 94%.

The next time you are headed off on a flight of 4 hours or more, it might be a good idea to consider adding compression socks to your airport outfit.


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