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Updated May 5, 2006
Airhealth.org

Athletics, Fitness

About 85% of air travel thrombosis victims are athletic, usually endurance-type athletes like marathoners. People with slower resting blood flow are at greater risk of stasis, stagnant blood subject to clotting. Also, they are more likely to have bruises and sore muscles that can trigger clotting.

No other risk factor comes close to this. Age over 60 is supposed to be a risk factor, but these victims are younger, 82% of them under 60.

Athletes should flex their legs at fifteen minute intervals during air travel. If other risk factors are present, such as a personal or family history of clots, more frequent flexing would be advisable, and wearing compression stockings. Avoid sleeping. The English soccer team flying to the World Cup games in Japan broke the trip into two segments with a two-day rest stop and wore compression stockings during the flights.

The injury often feels like a muscle cramp and is usually misdiagnosed, aggravating the injury and increasing the risk of permanent disability or death. Tips on recognizing symptoms and avoiding misdiagnosis are available in a free Leaflet.

New hope for victims lies in an experimental treatment being studied at National Institutes of Health by Dr. Richard Chang. He is using recombinant tissue plasminogen activator (rt-PA) to dissolve clots. By dissolving clots immediately instead of waiting weeks for lysing to dissolve them, the chance of permanent vein damage is greatly reduced. But the treatment must begin within two weeks of clot formation, after which the clot resists this treatment. Many victims, including physicians who are victims, are not able to recognize symptoms and get a correct diagnosis within two weeks. The free Leaflet could make you one of the lucky ones. For free treatment, contact Richard Chang at RChang@mail.cc.nih.gov.

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You can help. Post this notice on the bulletin board at the health club, locker room, or anywhere it will be seen by other athletes.

ATHLETES AT RISK OF DISABLING, SOMETIMES FATAL INJURY

Tim Hentzel, 26, a competitive triathlete, was recently diagnosed with DVT, deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in the leg, after a flight from Minneapolis to San Francisco. His life has been difficult since then, revolving around pain, swelling, warfarin (rat poison) tablets, and blood tests.

Medical journals report that, during air travel, blood flow slows down, especially in the lower legs, and coagulability rises hour by hour. Blood clots form in the calves of about 5% of air travelers. Clots can cause pain and swelling. If a blood clot reaches the lungs, it can cause pain, fainting, and death. Athletic people are at greater risk because, with lower resting blood flow to the large muscles, they are more prone to stasis, stagnant blood subject to clotting. A large majority of air travel thrombosis victims contacting Airhealth.org are athletic, usually endurance-type athletes like marathoners. No other risk factor comes close. Age is supposed to be a risk factor for DVT, but 83% of these victims are under age 60.

Experts recommend wearing compression stockings and flexing the legs at thirty minute intervals. For people at higher risk, such as athletes, flexing more frequently is advisable. Don't confuse compression stockings with support stockings. Support stockings may actually be harmful. Compression stockings are graduated with much greater pressure at the ankle.

The injury often feels like a muscle cramp and is usually misdiagnosed, aggravating the injury and increasing the risk of death. Tips on recognizing symptoms and avoiding misdiagnosis are available in a free Leaflet at www.airhealth.org. There are no strings; no advertising and no plea for contributions.

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