Sleeping pill in long-haul flights adds danger to thrombosis - Doctors warn

Update:27 Jul 2010
 
DOCTORS are urging travellers not to take sleeping tablets during long-haul flights following the death of a healthy woman from blood clots.
 
The 36-year-old woman, who was not identified due to patient confidentiality laws, had taken a single sleeping tablet and spent most of the flight asleep in one position, the New England Journal of Medicine reported last week.
 
The woman, an officer worker, woke up seven hours into the flight and collapsed in the aisle.
 
A doctor on board attempted to resuscitate her and the plane made an emergency landing two hours later in Boston, US.
 
Her life support was turned off a week later. Tests confirmed that she died from deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) – blood clots formed in her legs had travelled through her body and lodged in her heart and lungs, causing brain damage.
 
Taking the contraceptive pill was her only risk factor in developing the illness.
 
The incident has prompted doctors to renew warnings to travellers of the risks of taking sleeping tablets during flights.
 
"Sleeping tablets are not recommended on aircraft, since they tend to immobilise you and increase your risk of thrombosis," Dr Deborah Mills, Medical Director of The Travel Doctor in Australia, said.
 
"Sadly, on an aircraft it's good for you to be uncomfortable. It's not healthy to sleep in the sitting position."
 
"DVT is a very rare cause of death in travellers; however, even small clots can damage the lungs permanently and mean you have to take long term anti-clotting drugs, which disrupts your lifestyle and exercise tolerance."
 
Dr Richard Dawood, a member of the International Society of Travel Medicine, told the UK's Telegraph that air travellers need to be more aware of the risks of taking these pills.
 
"A significant number of travellers – whether to avoid jetlag or because they are nervous fliers – rely on medication to help them drop off, thinking little of the potentially fatal consequences," Dr Dawood said.
 
Dr Dawood said the human body is not designed for deep sleep in a sitting position.
 
"If you want to use medication to help you sleep on a long-haul flight, you should only ever do so when you can lie flat and move your legs comfortably," he said.
 
In 2007 researchers calculated the absolute risk of a blood clot while sitting in a cramped airline seat as one in 4656.
 
Scientists are developing a new system that will allow passenger to monitor their risk of developing the illness using a do-it-yourself test.
 
The test, a computerised plastic strip, will analyse blood clotting markers that indicate a high risk of DVT.
 
Earlier this year pop star Lady Gaga was undressed by flight attendants after experiencing the early stages of DVT on a flight from London to the US due to her wacky outfit.
 
Dr Mills' tips to reduce your risk of developing blood clots:
 
- Drink plenty of water during the journey. The air in a plane is very drying but one glass of liquid every hour will help maintain your body fluids. Fruit juice and water are best. Avoid fizzy drinks – low cabin air pressure makes the gas in your stomach expand by up to 20 per cent which will make you feel bloated.
 
- Exercise your legs and walk around the plane when possible – preferably every hour or two. This is especially important for pregnant women.
 
- Luggage must not press on the back of your legs. Remove bulky objects from your back pock and put a pillow in the small of your back. Avoid crossing your legs as this interferes with circulation and puts uneven strain on different parts of the body.
 
- Wear compression stocking if prescribed, or if you have any increased risk of clotting.
 
- Excessive alcohol or caffeine will make in-flight dehydration worse. Alcohol also tends to immobilise and may increase your risk of thrombosis.
 
SOURCE: news.com.au 
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