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Medical research has established that prolonged sitting inside the confined aircraft during long distance flights can pose serious health risks. There are no special categories to define health risks but this article will explain the common health issues associated with airline flights.
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Blood Clot Risks During Flight
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is recognized as the most serious health risk to frequent air passengers although the incidence has not reached any alarming numbers. DVT is a blood clot which often occurs when blood changes its state from liquid to solid and affects the veins (especially the veins of pelvis and legs). Blood clots can be of varying sizes and severity and though small clots may not cause serious problems, medium-sized clots can make moving the affected body part painful and cause swelling.
Large-sized clots however, can prove fatal as these clots have a tendency to break off, travel through the bloodstream, and enter into to the lungs, leading to a medical condition known as pulmonary embolism or Venous ThromboEmbolism (VTE). The symptoms of VTE include chest pain and gasping for breath. In rare cases it may even cause sudden death even before medical help can be provided.
Persistent air travellers, heavy smokers, anyone older than 40, persons regularly taking oral contraceptives, obese individuals, patients recently receiving major surgery – are all more prone to develop blood clots or DVT during air travel.
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How to Reduce the Risk of Blood Clots
To improve blood flow to the legs and lessen the risk of DVT and other air-borne health risks:
- Move ankle joints in your feet both clockwise and anti-clockwise.
- Gradually bring the feet up by raising them off the ground, then lower the heels and press them on the floor. Repeat this a few times.
- Lift the knees right up to the chest. Perform it with one or both knees and a couple of times.
- Try to touch the ceiling by raising your arm above the head and stretch the upper portion completely (do not over-stretch and try to judge your own limit).
- Do some normal neck stretching exercises by turning and bending your neck in different directions.
- Avoid wearing clothes which are too tight and may constrict blood flow.
- Keep yourself hydrated at all times during flight by drinking fruit juice or water.
- Avoid any type of sleeping pills that may slow down any natural reflexes.
- Is it necessary to take aspirin before flight? Ask your doctor since it is believed that it can reduce the chances of blood clotting.
- Wear compression hosiery to prevent blood pooling in leg.
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Symptoms and Effects of Jet Lag
Jet lag is a very frequent health complaint arising out of extended periods of air travel. The basic symptoms associated with jet lag are a state of dizziness, physical and mental fatigue, peevishness and the inability to concentrate or even perform normal everyday chores. It is generally believed that flying across different time zones is chiefly responsible for jet lag.
Experts say that jet lag is more acute on east-bound air travel than on west-bound. This is because of stressful airplane environments found in east to west flights.
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How to Prevent Jet Lag and Airline Sickness
Drinking plenty of water, avoiding caffeine and alcohol consumption, exercising at frequent intervals (only after a proper consultation with a medical expert) and avoiding heavy meals prior to travel or during flight – are some of the ways to minimize the chances of becoming jet lagged or simply feeling sick during your flight.
If your ears hurt when flying, it is better to carry a decongestant medicine. Patients suffering from diabetes or epilepsy are advised to carry the name and phone number of their doctor so he or she can be contacted in case of an emergency.
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Risk of Infectious Diseases
The one encouraging item is that sitting inside the aircraft for long hours does not greatly increase the risk of getting any infectious disease. Air filters inside the cabin purify the air quickly - more so than other crowded places like malls and movie theaters. However, sitting close to someone who may be contagious with any illness or disease should be avoided.
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