SSA May Day Mayhem – Economy Class Syndrome

There is a deadly disease out there and it’s colloquially called Economy Class Syndrome.

It’s real name is DVT and I will face it down next thursday when I travel for a whopping 18 hours…

Deep Vein Thrombosis is due to blood and how blood acts. The problem being that airplanes are cramped enough to reduce movement. In addition they often provide extremely good entertainment so encouraging stationary behaviour.

DVT has to do with anatomy. Blood easily falls into our legs powered by the heart and gravity but how does it get back up?

Well we have a “second” heart. Two secondary ones to be precise. The calf muscles (the Soleus and Gastrocnemius) press on a system of veins (Posterior Tibial Vein and Peroneal Vein). Veins are valved vessels and these valves function to prevent reversed flow. So pressure from the muscle during movement pumps blood back up the body against gravity. These muscles are large and so easily propel blood back towards the heart.

When we sit on a plane the lack of leg space often makes us complacent with movement. This causes blood to pool in the veins and form thrombus. If these embolise they can cause massive damage by occlusion. And the first port of call for these are the lungs.

Pulmonary embolisms are sudden and often very fatal. Particularly when flying on a plane away from hospitals.

The best course of action? Movement. Don’t fall into the trap of sitting still on planes. Wake your neighbour if you must, you are doing him a favour. Move your feet about and wiggle your toes and extend your foot. You can even press against the footrest and flex your calves helping move blood along.

This applies to people of all ages.

Avicenna is blogging for the SSA over the May Day holiday and will be doing so on the Saturday/Sunday too. He is trying to reach the goal of $500 of your shiny American Dollars. Help him do so by donating here. And leave your suggestions on the concurrent hangout happening over here.


  1. natashatasha says

    I was under the impression that the greater concentrations of carbon dioxide in aeroplane cabins (compared to sea level) greatly exacerbated the problem, since other events that have long-term sitting (such as concerts) don’t seem to have as much of an issue with DVT. Is this mistaken?

  2. sosw says


    Any concert more than an hour and a half long is likely to have an intermission. In my experience, a 5-hour opera will have two 15-minute intermissions. Movies usually don’t have intermissions, but they rarely take much over two hours anyhow, which is short compared to the 10+ hour flights I’ve been on most of my life (that’s the longest leg with overall travel times of 20 hours or so).

    Additionally economy class airline seating has considerably less leg room (business class and first class are fine in that respect).

    I don’t know whether CO2 also makes things worse, I just know I’ve been lucky so far…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>