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Traveling Stress and Economy Class Syndrome (Deep Vein Thrombosis)

We always knew that economy class wasn't the most comfortable way to travel and can be quite stressful. But now it turns out that, if you're not careful, it can even be harmful to your health on long journeys.

An image of tomatoes

Three distinguished scientists, Drs. Cruikshank, Gorlin, and Jennet have called the condition the Economy Class Syndrome, otherwise known as E.C.S. I call it leg lag. The underlying medical condition is deep vein thrombosis. The symptoms can appear several weeks after flights as short as three hours, and can-in extremis-lead to death. We do not yet know what causes deep vein thrombosis, but it obviously has something to do with the cramped leg-room in the economy class seats. Economy or charter class seats, also known euphemistically as hospitality class seats, have only half the leg room of first class seats. Yet economy class passengers, on average, have just as many legs as their first-class co-travelers. The longer the journey, the greater the risk is of a blood clot forming in the leg, which could then end up in the lung, with potentially fatal complications.

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

A deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot in a deep vein. A clot inside a blood vessel is called a thrombosis. Deep vein thrombosis predominantly occur in the legs and may have no symptoms. The non-specific signs of  deep vein thrombosis include pain, swelling, redness, warmness, and engorged superficial veins in the leg. A  deep vein thrombosis may go away naturally, but the most serious complication is when a blood clot dislodges (embolizes) and travels to the lungs to become a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.

In 2011,  The sudden death of rapper Heavy D was due to a pulmonary embolism caused by deep vein thrombosis, a Los Angeles coroner has decided.  His weight, heart disease and a recent transcontinental jet flight were cited as contributing factors to deep vein thrombosis.

In another example, tennis star Serena Williams appeared on the Today Show March 9, 2011 and gave host Matt Lauer additional details about her recent health scare. Williams was  being treated for a pulmonary embolism which resulted from a deep vein thrombosis. The Grand Slam tennis champ had two surgeries on her foot and she apparently was in a cast for 10 weeks, followed by 10 with an orthopedic boot on her leg. She also was doing a lot of flying during that time as well.

Why is this a potential problem when traveling?

The only way blood can circulate freely from the legs back to the heart is through the pumping action of the leg muscles in motion. The blood in these veins returns most easily when it is not thickened: unfortunately three factors on a plane conspire to turn our blood into sludge. At altitude, the humidity on a passenger jet is drier than the Sahara desert, causing the body to dehydrate. Alcohol also dehydrates the body, as does salty food. To make matters worse, most planes on this continent carry no bottled water for the passengers. The soda water and tonic water both have considerable quantities of salt and sugar, respectively, and thus neither solves the dehydration problem.

What is at stake here is a lot more serious than the minor nuisance of not being able to get back into your shoes after you have taken them off during the flight. In 1986 a three-year study carried out at Heathrow Airport found that 18% of 61 sudden deaths among long-distance passengers were due to blood clots in the lungs, which had originated as deep vein thrombosis in the legs. But this doesn't mean that we all have to win the lottery to be able to fly long distances safely in first class. Now that you know the dangers, you can take some simple steps to avoid the pitfalls of having a  deep vein thrombosis develop in your legs while flying.

Here's an action tip:
Fight leg-lag, otherwise known as Economy Class Syndrome (deep vein thrombosis), by taking the following precautions:

  • Make sure you wear loose clothing. Girdles, tight belts, garters, and executive socks are out. Support hosiery, on the other hand, provides some protection against deep vein thrombosis.
  • Drink lots of water, even if you have to bring your own bottles on board.
  • Avoid alcohol in flight; also avoid sugared drinks and excessively sweet foods.
  • Get some exercise. If you have a bit of time on your hands in the airport building, do a few laps of the concourse instead of sitting in the cafeteria or lounge. If you are held at the gate, choose to stand rather than sit. Once on the plane, Stretch your legs by walking the aisles, or standing out of the way at the back of the plane for at least a few minutes every hour. If you are stuck sitting in your seat try compressing and releasing your calf muscles
  • Don't smoke, as this further impairs the circulation of blood in the body.

Deep vein thrombosis while traveling in cramped quarters (think economy class on a 14 hour flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong) should be a concern to all travelers. If you take control, you can enjoy any flight, and arrive in complete safety.

Suntan Bed Dangers- the "Stupid Light" is ON

Not very long ago, society people were pale, and outdoor workers had suntans.   For whatever reason, society reversed the trend, and now it is fashionable to have a dark tan.  

Movie stars led the way.  George Hamilton was so addicted to tanning that it was written into his contracts that he could escape for weekend tanning breaks.  This led to some humorous continuity problems on set, like one movie where he jumped out of an airplane tanned, and was then seen untanned in his parachute a few seconds later!  Today, icons like Paris Hilton continue the trend.

A generation ago teens would lie out in the sun for hours, and use no protective sun lotions.  Worse, they would use baby oil, sometimes tinged with iodine to enhance absorption, in order to get a faster tan.  Lotions and oils were sold for tanning, but not for screening.

 

When Christmas/New Year's holidays came, students who went south for the sun would actually try to stay a couple of extra days, in order for their tans to last further into the new term back at school.

Then dermatologists started reporting the obvious.  Sun exposure/tanning was horrible for the skin. 

 Not just for reasons of skin cancers like melanoma, but for cosmetic reasons. The price of burned skin is premature aging.

 We are now seeing signs of permanent damage in younger adults.  Hence the rise of procedures such as chemical or laser peels, dermabrasion, injections into the face and lips, and face-lift surgeries. 

Here are a few facts that might help change your mind before sunbathing or using a suntan bed.

1. The tanning-bed suntan before a beach holiday does not protect you from sun damage.  Even with a great tan, you are fully exposed to risk when bare skin is in the sun or UV lamp light.  

2. The suntan from a bottle or spray lasts about as long as a real tan, and doesn't flake during the second week. And of course it can be reapplied at regular intervals, unlike having to take a trip to the tropics every couple of weeks. Also, the fake tan is indistinguishable from the tan gained under the sun or lamps.

3. Skin cancer (basal cell cancer, and melanoma being salient) risks are increased over 75% in those who tan before the age of 30. 

4. Tanning beds (and of course tanning in real rays) has been ranked with asbestos and cigarettes as a huge cancer risk. 

5.  In addition to dangers of cancer (to which most young tanners will feel imune), consider the cosmetic consequences.  Like splotches of discoloured skin, increased moles, permanent wrinkles on the lips and face, and even thinning and sagging of the skin.

6. If you must be out in the sun, cover up with a hat, and use a high SPF sunscreen.  Reapply as needed.  Also avoid the brightest part of the day if you have a choice; stay in the shade during the midday sun.

For additional information: Tanning Beds: what you need to know

 

For an interesting message to teens, read this link: Tannning Bed Risks

Stress relief for a Weekend; a Little Travel can go a Long Way!

Stress makes constant demands on our bodies and minds.   Most people assume their stresses come from the hectic work week, and the weekend is just a couple of blank days on the calendar.  image depicting man skiing on vacation to relieve stressBut stress abhors a vacuum, and we need to program a little stress-break into our schedule, without feeling guilty about it.

Take a look at some classic stress breaks, all taken without associations of guilt:

The lion takes its cat nap.

Kindergarteners take “blanket” time.

Students take recess.

Athletes sit down at half time, or between periods of play.

Executives take a retreat.

In each case, the break is well deserved after obvious periods of stressful activity, and nobody questions the need.

However, left unstructured, today’s week-end can actually leave us weakened.   I participated in an interesting study where over a thousand people were asked to evaluate their weekend breaks.  Over 80% said they were just as pooped on Monday morning as they were on Friday afternoon.  So what happened to TGIF?

Turns out our weekends do not automatically give us a break from stress.   What looked like a blank square on the weeks calendar turned out to be busy and stressful in its own way.  Errands, chores, and kids’ activities generally filled the time, leaving very little in the way of unstructured rest time. (for more on how to clear next weekend's chores during the week, go to How To Clear Chores).

 The definition of a home owner is someone who is constantly seen coming out of a hardware store.  Bag of hinges one time, sixteen wing nuts and a paint scraper the next, you get the picture.  Even renters or condo dwellers noted their weekend routines were filled with “honey-do’s”.

 

This highlights the point of travel as a stress strategy. Granted, we can’t all take luxury trips without stressing our budgets, but there should be some consideration for the true value of getting away from it all.  When your home becomes a source of more work, travel ensures a complete stress break.  Even if only for a day, and if only a short distance away.    

 

Options abound.  Hotels often offer cheap rates, especially on weekends.  an image depicting an sunset vacationIn many cases one can also find bargain packages including airfare for distant destinations, or find something in your own city.  Once you check in, you can feel the stress begin to ease.  You can relax on a sofa and admire the view, without feeling compelled to tinker with some imperfection.  Someone else cleans the towels, vacuums the carpet, and clears the wastebaskets.  If you have room service, the dishes are taken away for you.  If you eat out, someone else has done the shopping, prepping and cooking.  If you use the hot tub or pool, someone else has checked the filters dumped in the chlorine, and turned up the heat.

True, you could do all of this at home, but the distractions only seem to pause, not vanish.  Relax and admire your garden?  Wait, there’s a weed to be picked, or an ant farm to be dealt with, or some paint cracking around the windows.  Relax in your own hot tub?  Sure, right after you brush out the debris from the bottom, skim the surface, crank up the heat, refill the water level, and run to the store to buy another chlorine puck. 

 

So the value of travel is real, and should be considered as a valuable investment in your stress defense.  As an added bonus, the freedom from routine distractions is well known to improve libido.  That’s why doctors a hundred years ago would advise infertile couples to “take a cruise”; often they would come back pregnant.  The body seems to recognize the change of pace, and increases the sex hormones in both genders.  That’s why the sexy ads for travel destinations are actually quite accurate!

So if you are feeling stressed, don’t hesitate to include travel as an important element in your defense.  With good management, you can find deals to fit your budget.  But please remember to keep all your work stresses away.  Do not take along homework from the office, don’t check your office email every few minutes, and turn your cell phone off.  Do something different, like reading a book, having long conversations, or stroll around enjoying the new scene.  Don’t wait for one big vacation, then have twelve months before the next one.   If you schedule a weekend stress-break every few months, your remaining home chores will still get done, and your renewed energy will help you face your work stresses a lot more efficiently. 

For more info on travel bargains, read the following:

Hyatt Hotels

Mariott Hotels

Hilton Hotels

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