Blood clots in the legs of airline travelers were first reported in the 1950s and were termed “traveler’s thrombosis”. The condition is now known as “venous thromboembolism” (VTE) and is not specific to travel. However, long-haul travel is
a significant risk factor for VTE, and the association has been extensively studied in recent years.
An international concensus statement categorizes VTE into three risk groups: low, moderate, and high. High risk includes people with a history of blood clots; malignancy; pregnancy; obesity; and coagulation disorders. The risk of long-haul airline travel ranges from 0-2%
in a low risk person and rises to 5% in a high risk person. Although there is a risk of VTE from all long distance travel including long
rides in cars, buses, and trains, air travel has a much higher risk, up to 26% highe, for unknown reasons.
VTE risk increases with the length of the flight. Also, taking several long flights within a short period of time increases risk. The prevention of VTE in all risk groups is the use of compression stockings. Sometimes, in certain high-risk travelers, anticoagulant therapy is prescribed. Although insufficiently documented, good hydration and leg exercises during flight are also recommended.
High-risk persons should consult their internists for specific recommendations for VTE prevention. Frequent travelers should consider decreasing back-to-back long flights. All travelers should consider compression stockings. The doctors at Melbourne Podiatry Associates can discuss VTE with you and recommend the appropriate stockings.