Death risk from long-distance flights 'is exaggerated'

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The Independent Online

So-called "economy class syndrome" where long-haul air passengers develop potentially fatal blood clots because they are immobile for long periods is a myth, according to new research.

So-called "economy class syndrome" where long-haul air passengers develop potentially fatal blood clots because they are immobile for long periods is a myth, according to new research.

The findings, published in The Lancet medical journal today, come days after revelations that Emma Christoffersen, 28, had collapsed and died from deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) minutes after getting off a 20-hour flight from Australia.

Health experts suggested this week there was a link between her death and the fact that she was on a long-distance flight. Concern was also raised that restricted leg room in the cheapest seats, where the average gap between rows is about 30 inches, was increasing the risk of DVT.

However, doctors from the Netherlands are now claiming there is no clinical proof that travelling increases the risk of blood clots. Roderik Kraaijenhagen, of the University of Amsterdam, said his team's results "do not lend support to the widely accepted dogma that long travelling time is a risk factor for venous thrombosis. Even for air travel and journeys lasting more than five hours, no association was apparent". He said the actual risk had been poorly quantified and potentially overestimated.

DVT is caused by a lack of circulation. It starts as a blood clot in the vein which moves to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, starving the organ of oxygen with potentially fatal results. It is believed that dozens of people die from the condition every year in Britain.

The researchers assessed nearly 800 patients who had suspected DVT of the leg. They were asked if they had been on a journey of more than three hours by air, car, bus, train or boat during the last month.

Smokers and women who are pregnant, on the Pill or taking hormone replacement therapy are particularly at risk. Risk factors, which also include age, previous thrombosis, malignant disease and immobilisation, were taken into account by the Dutch doctors.

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