Dangers of Air Travel with Lymphedema or Edema

plane travel with lymphedema or edemaThere have been several articles about the chances of suffering from life threatening blood clots on long flights (See Time Nov 6 2000 "Dangerous Seats" or the recent article in The Lancet). This is a no-brainer to most of us who have worked with edema, or anyone who has taken his shoes off during a transatlantic flight and had difficulty putting them back on at arrival.

The venous and lymphatic systems work inefficiently during flights. A great number of my Lymphedema patients had their disease start after a long flight for that very reason. It has been conclusively proven that blood flow is adversely affected and transport of fluid from the vessels into the tissue spaces is greatly enhanced by lower pressures.

Tips for Travel

  1. Wear compression stockings to compress your veins

  2. Do not cross your legs while sitting

  3. Elevate your legs and avoid bending too much at the knees

  4. wear loose fitting clothing

  5. Every ten minutes, flex your toes and feet

  6. Drink plenty of fluids, but limit alcohol and coffee, which are diuretics

  7. Whenever possible, stand up and walk a few steps.

After all that is why graduated compression stockings and sleeves work. They increase the pressure on the blood vessels The public is generally unaware that planes are not pressurized to simulate ground level and do not understand the way the body responds to this reduction in pressure.

Reports of deaths from clots after long flights have begun to surface and the airline industry is reluctantly moving to confront the problem. The advice from doctors is to break up long flights by getting up and walking in the cabin and doing foot pumps while seated.

The advice for those people at special risk, those with circulatory problems, pregnancy, lymphedema or over sixty-five is to always wear compression hose while flying. Flight crews themselves are especially liable to long term exposure to this risk and should be encouraged to wear compression daily.

Patients should check with their Doctor of therapist before going on extended flights.

 John Wellum, CPD

*Important: We are smarter than to try to practice medicine without a license! The information presented on this site is for informational purposes only. New medical information is available weekly - so check with your doctor and therapist before making any changes to your treatment!

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