tall woman

Tall women have a higher risk of blood clots during air travel than do medium height women.

“Prolonged travel can put a person at a 2-4 fold increased risk of a DVT,” says Teresa Caulin-Glaser, MD, a cardiologist and senior vice president with Service Lines, OhioHealth.

A DVT is deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot, and tall women have an even higher risk of getting a DVT while on an airplane.

“There are several groups of individuals who have been noted to be a higher risk than the general population,” notes Dr. Caulin-Glaser.

“Those with a prior DVT, elderly, obese, women using oral contraception, those with factor V Leiden, and individuals who are tall (usually>6 ft) or short (usually<5 ft 2 in).”

But does this blood clot risk extend more to extra tall women, as opposed to men?

Dr. Caulin-Glaser continues: “The research is inconsistent as to if both men and women that are tall are at greater risk for DVT with air travel.

“Some of the literature has demonstrated increased risk regardless of gender, while other researchers have shown the risk is greater just in tall men.

“Some of the reasons for the increased risk in tall individuals are the lack of space to get up and walk around on a plane; the tight space while seated limits the ability to stretch the legs and perform seated exercises to increase blood flow, and hemoconcentration if the person is not drinking fluids.”

This makes sense if women (and men) air travelers are tall, regarding higher blood clot risk. But why would this higher DVT risk also apply to men and women shorter than 5-2?

Dr. Caulin-Glaser explains: “Short adults on long airplane flights have an increase in the pressure behind the popliteal fossa (knee), because their feet are not sitting on the ground.”

Does this mean that children have a greater risk of blood clots while on airplanes?

Interestingly, the answer is no. “The vascular compliance of the blood vessels is different in children as compared to adults, and children are also very unlikely to sit in one position for any great length of time,” says Dr. Caulin-Glaser.

“The advice would be to get up and walk and/or flex the feet and legs every 1-2 hours, avoid alcohol or sedative drugs, stay hydrated, don’t smoke and try not to cross your legs (the last one is usually NOT a problem in the economy class).”

In addition, tall women and men, plus any air traveler, since no adult is immune to DVT, should make a point of moving the legs around while seated every 20 minutes or so.

To lower risk of blood clots while traveling, tall women (and all adult air travelers) can also wear compression stockings designed for this purpose.

Dr. Caulin-Glaser is an experienced physician, teacher and researcher in the specialty of cardiovascular disease, and formerly the system vice president for Heart & Vascular Services at OhioHealth.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.