21 March 2002

DVT kills first-class passenger

By David Derbyshire, Medical Correspondent

A woman who flew first class from America suffered a deep vein thrombosis and died a day after returning home.

Ann Price, 57, collapsed when a blood clot moved from her legs and lodged in her lungs. Her family believes that the six-and-a-half hour flight triggered the clot and called on airlines to do more to alert passengers to the dangers of long-haul travel.

Yesterday her daughter said it was time to stop calling the condition "economy class syndrome" because it could strike passengers in any type of seat.

Mrs Price died after a wedding anniversary holiday in America with her husband John. The day before she was taken ill, the couple had flown from Miami to Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic in first class. The following morning Mrs Price complained of breathing problems at their home in Bottesford, Notts.

"She said 'I can't get my breath, phone a doctor'," said Mr Price, 59, who runs a print ink business. Mrs Price was taken to Grantham Hospital where she died. Doctors told the family that she had suffered a bilateral pulmonary embolism - a blood clot in the lungs. An inquest has been opened and adjourned.

Her daughter, Jacqui Dixon, 30, said: "It is wrong to call this economy class syndrome. We've since found out it may happen to more first and business class passengers because the seats are more comfortable and people do not get up and move about as much. The airlines should give a lot more advice to passengers on what to do."

According to Government guidelines issued last year, the risks of DVT are higher for people taking hormone replacement therapy and who have a past history of thrombosis. Mrs Price was on HRT and had a blood clot 20 years ago after an operation.

Prof John Scurr of the Lister Hospital, London, an expert in travellers' thrombosis, said most of the people he saw with DVT travelled business and first class. "The expression 'economy class syndrome' should not be used. Anybody who travels in a plane, or who is immobile for a long period, is at risk," he said. "Two thirds of people who get DVTs within 24 hours of returning home develop the clot on the outward flight. Usually it takes
three or four days to form and break off and then travel to the lungs."

One in 10 passengers is thought to develop a clot in the deep veins of the lower leg during a long haul flight.

Research highlighted by The Telegraph last year showed that 10 apparently healthy people die every year from a blood clot within minutes of stepping off a long haul flight at Heathrow airport. Those most at risk include people with a history of clotting, those who have had cancer, anyone who has had surgery within the previous three months and people who have suffered strokes.

Clots can form in the deep veins of the lower leg during any long period of inactivity. Normal leg movement allows calf muscles to pump blood around the body. But if legs are still, blood in the lower legs can become sticky and more prone to clot.