More than 2,000 airline passengers may die from blood clots in Britain aloneevery year, an English doctor claims. An Australian surgeon agrees, sayinghospital reports indicate that up to 400 people arrive at Sydney airportsuffering from blood clots every year. In the past 8 years, 25 passengersarriving at Tokyo’s international airport have died from blood clots andcirculatory problems, and every year, Japanese doctors treat between 100 and150 passengers suffering from what has become known as “economy classsyndrome,” says Toshiro Makino, director of the airport clinic.

These clots form after long periods of sitting in a cramped position and canbecome lethal if they reach the heart or lungs. Most air passengers who diefrom this syndrome do not develop symptoms until days or even weeks afterflying, so airplane conditions are rarely linked to their deaths.

Many of these victims are middle-aged or old. The average age of those whodied in Tokyo was 64.

But not all of the deceased were elderly: In October, 28 year old EmmaChristoffersen died from deep-vein thrombosis at London’s Heathrow Airportafter a 20 hour flight from Australia. And not all are flying economy: Onevictim was an airline pilot who collapsed after reaching Tokyo from the U.S.However, “Seventy percent of the cases were among economy-class travelers,25 percent business class and 5 percent first class,” Makino says.

Ashford Hospital in Surrey, which is close to Heathrow, has treated 30 airpassengers in the past 3 years who died from blood clots, says JohnBelstead, who works there. One third of these patients had flown fromAustralia to England in economy class.

Doctors at Sydney’s St. Vincent hospital have investigated 122 cases ofblood clots in the past 3 years, says Reginald Lord.

What can frequent fliers do? Take an aspirin before long flights, in orderto thin the blood. You should also try to get out of your seat and walkaround as much as possible during the flight.

Drinking plenty of fluids may also help. A research team at Saitama MedicalSchool in Japan put volunteers in a pressure chamber that created in-flightconditions and gave one group plenty to drink, while the other group stayeddry. They found that the blood pressure of the people who were given fluidsdid not drop, but the pressure in the control group did. The drinking groupalso had more oxygen in their brains and a 5 percent greater blood flow.

But watch what you drink: “The biggest problem is dehydration, and that ismade worse by drinking alcohol,” says Toshiro Makino. “My advice is to keepoff the alcohol and drink lots of water.”

British Airways has announced that it will print warning labels on itstickets for long-haul flights and Quantas plans to do the same.

And you thought long delays and lost luggage were the biggest problems withflying.

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