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Tips for Safe, Healthy and Happy Travel and Vacation- Preventing Economy Class Syndrome

Updated on July 23, 2011

Tips to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis

What is Economy Class Syndrome?

Economy Class Syndrome is also known as Deep Vein Thrombosis. It is a dangerous condition in which blood clots are formed in the deep vein system in the lower part of the leg, most commonly between the upper calf and the ankle.

Cause of Economy Class Syndrome

The forming of the blood clots is attributed to long hours of physical inactivity that has slowed down the rate of blood flow through the blood vessels. The risk of having these blood clots formed will become significantly worse in case of dehydration as dehydration will increase blood viscosity.

Deep Vein Thrombosis gets its nickname of “Economy Class Syndrome” because plane passengers who fly for a very long distance in economy class tend to be physically inactive in sitting position for many, many hours, and have been reported to have suffering from this problem.

One should not think that only plane passengers of long distance flights are exposed to this risk. Those who are traveling for long hours by train, by bus or by car and remain almost motionless in sitting position throughout the journey are equally at the risk of developing the same health problem. Furthermore, one is subjected to the same risk if one remains physically inactive for a prolonged period of time as one is engrossed in computer games, watching long-drawn-out TV programs or performing sedentary work.

Seriousness of Economy Class Syndrome

When the blood clots are formed, there is no obvious symptom to give early warnings. The blood clots will move along the blood stream and then clog the flow of blood when they get stuck in the heart or lung and cause mysterious, sudden death.

If the blood clots remain stagnant in the legs, they may cause damages to the vein or the venous system. The extent of tissue damage may end up as ulceration, skin degradation, and in extreme cases, loss of limb as a result of amputation.

How High is the Risk that One May Suffer From Economy Class Syndrome?

It is said that the London Heathrow Airport reports averagely one death case of Economy Class Syndrome per month. It is also said that the London Heathrow Airport serves approximately 68 million passengers annually. Assuming that half of the passengers are incoming and the other half are outgoing, and half of the incoming passengers are from long distance flights, then, you have 12 cases of Economy Class Syndrome per 17 million passengers. This translates into a probability of 705 ppb (people per billion) !

The level of probability may appear to be low but the consequences of Economy Class Syndrome are too serious to have. One should not forget the fact that not every passenger in a long distance flight is physically inactive throughout the flight. If one does not take any precautions, the chances of suffering from Economy Class Syndrome may be high and the level of risk cannot be accurately estimated!

The good news is, the recommended precaution against Economy Class Syndrome is rather simple and easy!

Precaution against Economy Class Syndrome

1) If you have to wait for many hours for transit at the airport or railway station, try to walk around instead of be seated all the while. At least, try to walk around for 5 to 10 minutes every hour.

2) Always drink enough water to avoid dehydration especially when the relative humidity is low. Usually, the level of atmospheric humidity is low in a plane and during winter.

3) Try to get an aisle seat so that you can get up for a walk every hour by pretending going to toilet without disturbing others.

4) Simple exercise to be carried out while seated – do it when you feel like doing it or at least hourly :

a) Toe exercise 1 – Curl your toes and then extend them and try to bend them upwards. Do this exercise on both legs simultaneously. Do it gently and repeat it up to 10 times.

b) Toe exercise 2– Use your toe to draw 5 to 10 circles clockwise. Then draw the circles for a similar number of times in anti-clockwise direction. Do it on one leg and then another.

c) Foot exercise – Bend both feet upwards gently by bringing the toes nearer to the shins, and then push the toes downwards by bringing them away from the shins. Do this on both legs simultaneously for 5 to 10 times.

d) Slapping the floor with your feet – Rest both heels on the floor. Lift the toes and then let the toes drop down so as to gently tap or slap the floor with the soles. Do this simultaneously on both legs for about 5 to 10 times.

e) Knee Extension – try to find some rooms to extend and bend your knees for a number of times. If there is no room for this, the best is to get up for a short walk.

There is also a simple hand exercise to make you feel better. Gently grip your fingers into a fist, and then extend them gently. Do this on both hands simultaneously and repeat it 5, 10, 20 or 30 times as you like.

Take the precaution for your own benefit and for the benefit of your loved ones.

Wish you a vacation sweet in the beginning, sweet in the middle and sweet at the end and sweet forever in your memory.


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      Crystal 6 years ago

      Very informative and educational. I know how to prevent ECS now :)