22 May 2001
The incidence of symptomless deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) among travellers may be much higher than expected, and elastic compression stockings may be highly effective in reducing the risk of developing this condition, according to a study published recently in The Lancet.
In the study into the connection between long-haul air travel and DVT, Mr John Scurr and his team of researchers from University College London randomly divided the 231 passengers recruited into 2 groups. Passengers in one group wore below-knee graduated elastic compression stockings while passengers in the other group did not. The volunteers were all aged over 50 and took trips lasting more than 8 hours per flight, returning to the United Kingdom within 6 weeks.
They were tested with a highly sensitive ultrasound technique and had blood samples taken to assess their deep veins before departure and within 48 hours of their return, making this the first study in which travellers were examined both before and after their flights.
None of the volunteers who wore the stockings were found to have any DVT, leading the researchers to claim that their findings show that the ‘wearing of elastic compression stockings during long-haul air travel is associated with a reduction in symptomless DVT’.
About one in 10 of the volunteers who were not wearing the stockings developed symptomless DVT, which the researchers described as ‘a surprisingly large proportion of the study group’.
However, in a commentary published in the same issue of The Lancet, a team of Canadian researchers questioned the findings, calling the total elimination of thrombosis by the stockings ‘improbable’. They pointed to the possibility that the ultrasound technicians may have spoken with the volunteers and so been biased towards certain results.
They also described the results, which they said were 40-fold higher than in previous case-control studies, as ‘startling’.
Although Scurr and his team conceded that their method of recruitment ‘was not ideal’ and that they considered the study to be a ‘pilot investigation’, they stated that they ‘believe that the frequency of symptomless DVT that we recorded is reliable’.
Last Reviewed: 22 May 2001