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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Economy class syndrome: Deep vein thrombosis among airline passengers

Michael Rieff, a 53-year-old American executive with Royal Dutch Shell, took long flights almost half the time when he traveled. Several years ago, he was hospitalized with life-threatening blood clots in his lungs (from "deep vein thrombosis," or DVT) after a flight from Houston to Amsterdam. Now he has cut his flying in half, and walks up and down the aisles on long flights to restore his circulation.

Though it is often called "economy class syndrome" because of the cramped conditions there, DVT also occurs among business class and first class passengers. Indeed, Michael, Shell's head of global compensation and benefits, always flew in business class or first class.

DVT occurs when a blood clot forms within the large deep veins of the body, usually in the legs. If not treated, part of the clot can break off and travel to the lungs, where it can block blood flow (in a "pulmonary embolism"). DVT often causes unexplained pain, tenderness, redness and swelling, often in the leg. Once a clot reaches the lungs, chest pain and breathing difficulties are common.

DVT can be hard to diagnose, because other conditions have similar symptoms. Randy Fenninger, the president of the nonprofit National Alliance for Thrombosis and Thrombophilia, entered a hospital E.R. with chest pain, but was not properly diagnosed for seven hours.

Randy's organization increases public awareness of the condition, and ways to prevent it. Bravo for helping others with your condition!

Advice to travelers: Walk, or find ways to exercise, during long airplane flights.

Read a sadder DVT story, or read Tanya Mohn's source story in today's New York Times.

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