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Aisle Seat Better for Preventing Blood Clots

< Feb. 08, 2012 > -- Next time you book a flight, you might want to pick an aisle seat instead of one next to the window.

Photo of woman in a window seat on a jetliner

That's the recommendation from the American College of Chest Physicians, which issued revised guidelines to help prevent a type of blood clot called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

DVTs usually occur in the legs and can become a health threat if they travel through the bloodstream to the lungs. People who sit for long periods - as on long-haul flights - are at higher risk for DVTs.

Window vs. aisle

Because of their link to air travel, DVTs have been nicknamed "economy class syndrome." But the new ACCP guidelines say that the size of seat doesn't matter as much as where the seat is located on the plane.

"Really, the evidence is that actually where you sit isn't really an issue," says Gordon H. Guyatt, M.D., at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. "It's how much you move around. And if you're in a window seat, you are probably more willing to sit for long periods of time being uncomfortable because you are reluctant to make anybody else move to let you out."

The new recommendations, published in the February issue of the journal Chest, are endorsed by a number of other medical associations.

Risk factors

Dr. Guyatt stresses that for most healthy people, DVTs are not something to worry about.

These factors put you at higher risk for DVTs:

  • Past blood clot

  • Condition that affects blood coagulation

  • Problems with mobility

  • Obesity

  • Pregnancy

Other risk factors include active cancer, advanced age, oral contraceptive use, and recent surgery. People at higher risk should talk with their health care provider about whether to wear compression stockings or take other steps to prevent DVTs.

Get up and move

The guidelines suggest that people on flights lasting six or more hours move about frequently and stretch their calf muscles.

"Getting up once every hour or two during a long flight and walking up and down the aisle is what you want to do," says Christopher Cannon, M.D., at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "It's not about class and the slight extra room you'll get in business. It's about sitting by the window and looking over at the guy sleeping next to you and thinking you'll wait rather than get up."

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this website.

Q&A on Air Travel

Q. How can I ease the pain in my ears?

A. If you usually have ear pain while flying, try taking a decongestant medicine before you get on the plane. You can also swallow often and chew gum during the flight. Babies can suck on a bottle or a pacifier during the flight. These tips work better if you try them before your ears start to hurt.

Q. How can I cope with cramped seating?

A. Anytime you travel by air, you can't escape lots of sitting. To avoid back, neck, and leg pain, practice dynamic sitting--a way of sitting that allows your bones, instead of your muscles and ligaments, to support your body. To sit this way: Slightly arch your lower back and distribute your weight evenly over your pelvic bones. Don't cross your legs. Keep your shoulders and abdomen relaxed.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American College of Chest Physicians - New DVT Guidelines: No Evidence to Support "Economy Class Syndrome"

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Vascular Disease Foundation - Deep Vein Thrombosis: What is it?