Introduction: Long-distance travel is assumed to be a risk factor for venous thromboembolism (VTE). However, the available data have not clearly demonstrated the strength of this relationship, nor have they shown evidence for the role of thromboprophylaxis.
Methods: We performed a systematic review of the literature. We also summarized available guidelines from 5 groups.
Results: We found 18 studies that addressed this question. Based on the data presented in the review, we conclude that there is an association between VTE and length of travel, but this association is mild to moderate in effect size with odds ratios between 1.1 and 4. A dose-response relationship between VTE and travel time was identified, with a 26% higher risk for every 2 h of air travel (P=0.005) starting after 4 h. The quality of evidence for both travel length and thromboprophylaxis was low. However, low-risk prophylactic measures such as graduated compression stockings were shown to be effective in VTE prevention. There is heterogeneity among the different practice guidelines. The guidelines generally concur that no prophylaxis is necessary in travelers without known thrombosis risk factors and advocate for conservative treatment such as compression stockings over pharmacologic prophylaxis.
Conclusions: We conclude air travel is a risk factor for VTE and that there is a dose relationship starting at 4 h. For patients with risk factors, graduated compression stockings are effective prophylaxis.
Keywords: airplane; embolism; heparin; stockings; thrombophlebitis; thrombosis.
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