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Can Aspirin Help Prevent Blood Clots During Extended Flights? Medical Experts Share Their Insights.

Can Aspirin Help Prevent Blood Clots During Extended Flights? Medical Experts Share Their Insights.

If you've ever taken a long-haul flight, you've likely heard about deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which refers to the formation of blood clots, typically in the calf region, associated with air travel. These clots can potentially travel to the lungs, leading to life-threatening pulmonary embolisms.

DVT becomes a primary concern during long flights, typically defined as those lasting four hours or more. "Four hours is the threshold, but the risk increases significantly for flights lasting eight hours or longer," explains Dr. Lin Chen, the director of the Travel Medicine Center at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School.

These concerns have prompted some travelers to consider taking aspirin, known for its blood-thinning properties, before embarking on a flight. But the question remains: does aspirin truly provide assistance?

What Triggers Deep Vein Thrombosis on Airplanes? DVT related to air travel is primarily attributed to immobility, a concern amplified by the decreasing legroom on planes over the years, especially in economy class.

"Our veins, unlike arteries which are pumped by the heart, rely on calf muscles to facilitate blood flow. Without mobility, blood tends to pool in the veins," points out Dr. Danielle R. Bajakian, a vascular surgeon at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and director of the Columbia Vein Program. She also suggests another theory regarding DVT: "There's a theory that differential air pressure inside the airplane, in contrast to the external environment, may lead to reduced oxygenation of blood, potentially increasing the risk of blood clots. However, there's ongoing debate on this notion."

Individual factors that may heighten the risk of DVT include obesity, pregnancy, age over 40, recent orthopedic surgery, use of birth control or hormone replacement therapy, active cancer, and a prior history of DVT.

Can Taking Aspirin Before a Long Flight Prevent Blood Clots? The jury is still out on this question. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend the use of aspirin before a long flight for the purpose of preventing blood clots, as stated on their website. Both Dr. Bajakian and Dr. Chen concur that there isn't sufficient data to support the effectiveness of aspirin in preventing blood clots during air travel.

Dr. Bajakian adds, "There are some physicians who may recommend it, but these recommendations aren't based on substantial studies. The data comes from orthopedic literature, where aspirin is suggested for DVT prevention in patients who have undergone hip surgery. However, there isn't substantial evidence to advocate its use for preventing venous blood clots during air travel."

Dr. Chen, while not actively encouraging aspirin use before long flights, isn't entirely against it, provided that the traveler has no contraindications or health issues, such as an aspirin allergy or a risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, that could make aspirin use unsafe. She explains, "If a traveler asks, 'Should I take aspirin before a long-haul flight?' I would inform them that current guidelines do not support its use in preventing deep vein thrombosis. However, if they have no contraindications and no tolerance issues, and if they wish to take it, I don't advise against it."

Depending on an individual's risk factors and medical history, physicians might recommend a prescription anticoagulant, such as injectable low molecular weight heparin or an oral alternative, prior to a long flight. However, like aspirin or any other medication, this preventive measure should only be pursued under the guidance of a medical professional.

How Else Can Travelers Reduce the Risk of Blood Clots? The good news is that travelers can minimize their risk of DVT without resorting to medication. If physically capable, it's advisable to walk up and down the aisle during the flight, with Dr. Bajakian suggesting doing so every hour when possible. Performing calf exercises while seated can also be beneficial, which is why she recommends storing items in the overhead bins rather than under the seat in front of you, to maximize legroom. Staying hydrated, wearing compression socks, and avoiding sedatives that could keep you immobile in your seat can also contribute to reducing the risk of DVT.