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Health Answers

Should I take an aspirin before a plane flight to avoid getting blood clots?

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By Judy Foreman
December 8, 2008
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No, according to new guidelines issued in June by the American College of Chest Physicians, though if you already take aspirin for general cardiovascular health, you should continue to do so while you travel.

In everyday life, aspirin helps prevent clots in arteries by keeping platelets, the major element in plaque, from building up in ones arteries.

But the type of clots triggered during long plane flights are different. They start in deep leg veins, says Dr. Michael Jaff, medical director of the vascular center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Deep vein clots are composed predominantly of fibrin, which aspirin does not affect.

Taking aspirin in hope of preventing air-travel-induced clots may lull you into a false sense of security, which raises the chance that you will forget to do the things that can prevent deep vein clots.

It is important to stay well hydrated, says Dr. Samuel Goldhaber, director of the Venous Thromboembolism Research Group at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Avoiding alcohol during flights helps because alcohol is dehydrating, he says.

You can also wear below-knee compression stockings in the 20-30 millimeter strength. To get the best price, you may have to search online, according to Goldhaber. And be sure to flex your calf muscles often as you fly.

Leg pain may or may not be a sign of a clot. But clots that travel to the lungs - a pulmonary embolism - it can be fatal.

The odds of this are low - one in a million - for an otherwise healthy person. But if, in the hours or days after a flight, you experience sudden discomfort in the chest, especially with deep breaths, passing out, heart palpitations, or if you cough blood, get emergency medical help right away.

E-mail health questions to foreman@globe.com.

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