Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Stock these for a long journey

Heart Beat

Stock these for a long journey

Planning a long trip by plane, train, bus, or car? A pair of special support stockings that squeeze your legs might be a good travel companion.

Sitting still for long periods, especially in the cramped confines of an airplane or other vehicle, can cause blood to pool in the legs and feet. In addition to swelling your feet, sluggish blood flow back to the heart can cause small blood clots to form. Most of these go unnoticed, broken apart by the body's natural clot busters. In some people, though, they can plug a vein and block blood flow (this is called a deep-vein thrombosis), leading to leg pain. A clot that breaks away and travels to the lungs (a pulmonary embolism) is a potentially life-threatening medical emergency.

Between 10 and 30 of every 1,000 people who take a long-haul flight develop a blood clot in a leg. Wearing compression stockings can cut that by 90%, to 1–3 per 1,000, according to a comprehensive review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The stockings can also prevent swollen legs and feet. Exercises (often described in the back of in-flight magazines) and staying well hydrated can also help prevent travel-related blood clots.

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