Long airplane flight does not appear to increase risk of blood clots

Researchers simulating conditions of reduced cabin pressure and reduced oxygen levels, such as may be encountered during an 8-hour airplane flight, found no increase in the activation of the blood clotting system among healthy individuals, according to a study in the May 17 issue of JAMA.

Venous thromboembolism, a term used to describe deep vein thrombosis (DVT; blood clots forming in the veins) and pulmonary embolism (clots passing to the lungs where they may obstruct the blood flow), has been associated with long-haul air travel, but it has been unclear whether this is due to the effects of sitting for a long time, or whether there is a relationship with some other specific factor in the airplane environment, according to background information in the article. One hypothesis has been that hypoxia (reduced oxygen in the blood), associated with the decreased cabin pressure that occurs at altitude, produces changes in the blood that increase the risk for blood clots.

William D. Toff, M.D., from the University of Leicester, England, and colleagues conducted a study, from September 2003 to November 2005, to assess the effects of hypobaric (reduced air pressure) and hypoxia, similar to that which might be encountered during commercial air travel, on a variety of markers of activation of the hemostatic (blood clotting) system. The study included 73 healthy volunteers who spent 8 hours seated in a hypobaric chamber and were exposed to hypobaric hypoxia, similar to the conditions of reduced airplane cabin pressure that might occur during a long-haul flight (cabin pressure may be reduced to the equivalent of that at an altitude of about 8,000 feet). Blood was drawn before and after exposure to assess activation of factors associated with hemostasis (blood clotting). Similar measurements were taken of the same volunteers, on a separate occasion, before and after they spent 8 hours seated in a controlled environment, equivalent to atmospheric conditions at gr

Contact: William D. Toff, M.D.
JAMA and Archives Journals

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