What is a traveller’s thrombosis?
Traveller’s thrombosis – usually associated with long air journeys – is also called "flight thrombosis", "economy class syndrome" and "tourist class syndrome". But the risk of thrombosis is not only increased when flying. Traveller’s thrombosis is properly called “sitting thrombosis”: It is the long periods of sitting that can promote thrombosis, for example when travelling by plane, bus, train or car, but also at work for people who mainly work in a seated position.
Causes: How does traveller’s thrombosis occur?
Particularly in the case of long-haul flights, several factors come together that increase the risk of thrombosis:
- Passengers sit almost motionless for hours in a cramped place.
- The calf muscle pump is virtually inactive.
- In addition, there is the bent sitting posture in the groin as well as the angling or crossing of the legs – veins in the knee can be squeezed.
- The blood circulation slows down, among other things, because the air in the aircraft is dry and the air pressure is low.
Blood can build up in the leg veins. If the aqueous components enter the tissue through the vessel wall, feet and legs swell. The blood can thicken. If a vein is blocked, there is a risk of leg vein thrombosis.
Signs and symptoms of increased risk of thrombosis while travelling
Tingling, pulling, heavy and swollen feet or legs – who doesn’t recognise this feeling after a long journey by train, bus or car? Especially after a long-haul flight, holidaymakers and business travellers often reach their destination with tired legs. This already indicates the risk of thrombosis.
Risk: Flying after surviving thrombosis
On long air journeys, the risk of thrombosis is generally increased – not only for venous patients and people who have previously had thrombosis. Even people who have healthy veins should therefore also take care to keep their risk of thrombosis as low as possible: If a thrombus detaches from the vessel wall, it can reach the lungs, block important arteries of the lungs – and trigger a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
The risk group includes:
- Travellers over 60 years of age
- Overweight people
- Patients who have recently undergone surgery
- People with a family history of thrombosis
- People who have already had thrombosis
Actively prevent travel thrombosis: You can do this yourself
If you follow a few simple rules before you travel, you can reduce the risk of traveller’s thrombosis.
Before the trip
- Avoid alcohol the day before the trip (it draws water from the body).
- Ensure that there is sufficient fluid in the body by drinking enough, preferably water.
During the trip
- Choose loose, comfortable clothing to avoid constriction when sitting.
- Do not cross your legs while sitting to avoid obstructing blood flow.
- Drink plenty of liquids, preferably water.
- Avoid alcohol while travelling.
- Schedule movement breaks on longer journeys.
- Do vein therapy gymnastics to activate the calf muscle pump by moving the feet up and down while sitting.
- If possible, put your legs up.
- Wear travel stockings or your medical compression stockings.
Antithrombotic exercises for on the plane: How to relieve your legs
Tip: Move your legs on long journeys because: Every tension on the muscle supports the blood on its way back to the heart. The blood flows better through simple, targeted exercises against thrombosis. You can do the exercises while sitting. However, you should still get up more often and take a few steps.
Compression stockings for travel: Arrive with legs relaxed
Travelling after a survived thrombosis
Medical compression stockings are an important travel tool for people who have already had thrombosis and all those who belong to the risk group. Talk to your doctor, who can prescribe the stockings if necessary and, if the situation warrants, also inform you about medicinal prophylaxis measures (such as injections or tablets).
Causes and treatment for water in the legs or swollen legs
Specific compression against traveller's thrombosis
Information about thrombosis and risk factors at a glance
1 Rabe E. et al. (2018). Leitlinie: Medizinische Kompressionstherapie der Extremitäten mit Medizinischem Kompressionsstrumpf (MKS), Phlebologischem Kompressionsverband (PKV) und Medizinischen adaptiven Kompressionssystemen (MAK). AWMF Online (AWMF-Registernummer: 037/005).
Health personnel will make the diagnosis and can prescribe medical aids, e.g. from medi if necessary.
Your medical retailer will fit them individually for you.