Study results released on travel and blood clots

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Long Travel and VTE Risk

WHO project finds VTE risk higher after long travel, but still relatively low

WHO today released results from Phase I of the WHO Research Into Global Hazards of Travel (WRIGHT) project. Findings indicate that the risk of developing venous thromboembolism (VTE) approximately doubles after travel lasting four hours or more. However, the study points out that even with this increased risk, the absolute risk of developing VTE, if seated and immobile for more than four hours, remains relatively low at about 1 in 6000.

The two most common manifestations of VTE are deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition in which a blood clot, or thrombus, develops in a deep vein - usually in the lower leg. Symptoms of DVT are principally pain, tenderness and swelling of the affected part. DVT can be detected through medical testing and can be treated. It can be life-threatening when associated with thromboembolism.

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Thromboembolism occurs when a blood clot (from a deep vein thrombosis) in a leg vein breaks off and travels through the body to the lungs where it becomes lodged and blocks blood flow. This is known as pulmonary embolism, and symptoms include chest pain and breathing difficulties. VTE can be treated, but if it is not, it can lead to death.

The study showed that plane, train, bus or automobile passengers are at higher risk of VTE when they remain seated and immobile on journeys of more than four hours. This is due to a stagnation of blood in the veins caused by prolonged immobility, which can promote blood clot formation in veins.

One study within the project examining flights in particular found that those taking multiple flights over a short period of time are also at higher risk. This is because the risk of VTE does not go away completely after a flight is over, and the risk remains elevated for about four weeks.
Other factors of influence

The report shows that a number of other factors increase the risk of VTE during travel, including obesity, being very tall or very short (taller than 1.9 meters or shorter than 1.6 meters), use of oral contraceptives, and inherited blood disorders leading to increased clotting tendency.

"The study does confirm that there is an increased risk of venous thromboembolism during travel where the passenger is seated and immobile for over four hours, whether in a plane, train, bus or car. However, it is important to remember that the risk of developing VTE when travelling remains relatively low," says Dr Catherine Le Gal

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