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Air travel and the risk of thromboembolism

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Almost two billion people use commercial aircraft annually. Long-haul flights are taken by over 300 million people. A serious complication of long-distance travel (or prolonged time of flight) is thromboembolism. The real incidence of the problem is difficult to evaluate since there is no consensus about the diagnostic tests or limitation of time after landing connected to the VTE complication. A direct relation between VTE incidence and long-distance flights has been documented. The risk for DVT is 3–12% in a long-haul flight. The pathophysiologic changes that increase VTE risk at flight are stasis (sitting in crowded condition), hypoxia in the airplane cabin, and dehydration. Individual risk factors for air travel-related VTE include age over 40 years, gender (female), women who use oral contraceptives, varicose veins in lower limbs, obesity and genetic thrombophilia. Prevention measures include environmental protection such as keeping the pressure inside the airplane cabinet in hypobaric condition, avoiding dehydration and prolonged sitting. For individuals at increased risk, venous blood stasis can be reduced by wearing elastic stockings and prophylactic use of low-molecular-weight heparin.

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Correspondence to Israel Gavish.

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Gavish, I., Brenner, B. Air travel and the risk of thromboembolism. Intern Emerg Med 6, 113–116 (2011).

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