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Studies are now being undertaken to examine the full extent of this connection, but physicians generally agree that sitting still for three hours or more, especially if the seat cushion presses against the bottom of the thighs, encourages blood to stagnate in the lower portion of the legs. This may cause swelling, stiffness, joint pain and fever, and increases the odds that a blood clot could form in the veins. This blood clot could then break loose and travel to the lungs where it could constrict the flow of blood to the lungs, creating a pulmonary embolism that could result in severe health problems or even death. Embolisms can occur hours, or even days after the clot is formed.
While the risk is small for most healthy people, many airlines are issuing
warnings to their passengers both on their websites and when long-haul tickets
are purchased. In addition, some airline sites offer exercise routines that
can be performed while seated to keep the blood flowing. The following tips
will help keep you in circulation:
- Drink lots of water, and avoid beverages that dehydrate (coffee, tea, alcohol)
- Avoid salty food; snack instead on healthy foods to encourage good circulation
- Wear support socks that apply the proper amount of compression to the lower legs
- Get up and move around the aircraft cabin occasionally (aisle seats make this easier)
- Exercise your feet and legs four to five minutes every hour when seated.
- If your legs are not long enough for your feet to rest comfortably on the floor, use a footrest or prop your feet on your carry-on bag. This will reduce seat pressure on the back of your thighs that may inhibit circulation.
- If your legs are long, try to board at the first announcement for your seating to increase
the odds that your carry-on bag can be stowed in the overhead bin, allowing
you to take advantage of all available leg space.
Of course, if a traveler is currently suffering from circulation problems or has a history of blood clots, a physician should be consulted prior to flying.