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Is economy class syndrome another medical myth?

Press Statement:

Ron Law
Citizen for Evidence Based Regulation and Medical Advice

28 October.

Is economy class syndrome another medical myth?

The so-called economy class syndrome thought to threaten the health of long-haul travellers may well be another modern day medical myth, according to a study of nearly 800 patients reported in the latest Lancet Medical Journal (

Researchers could find no link between the development of blood clots in the veins - venous thromboembolism - and the taking of long journeys. The alarm was rung this week after a young bride-to-be died following a 20-hour non-stop flight between the UK and Australia and medical 'experts' cautioned about this 'modern day' travel hazard. But, where is there evidence?

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam, Holland, questioned 788 patients sent to them with suspected thromboembolism. The average age of the patients was 62. The condition was confirmed in only 176 cases.

The researchers compared the stories of patients who developed clots with those who did not and could find no link between the development of clots and any kind of travel, including journeys of longer than five hours and air travel. Just four of the patients with confirmed plots had recently been on planes. 13 of the others had flown recently.

Researcher Dr Roderik Kraaijenhagen said: "These results do not lend support to the widely accepted dogma that long travelling time is a risk factor for venous thrombosis. Even for air travel and journeys lasting more than 5 hours, no association was apparent."

"The public needs to be told that there are a large number of reasons - known and unknown - as to why people get blood clots in the veins," said Ron Law (09-832 4773), an advocate of evidence based regulation and medical advice. "One of the most common causes of blood clots are medications such as the contraceptive pill." "Was the public told wether or not the young bride-to-be was on the contraceptive pill?" Ron Law asks. The chances of dying from blood clots due to contraceptive pills is about 1:100,000. The chances of dying in air travel is about 1:8,000,000. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the most likely cause of thromboembolism," said Ron Law

Public health officials and there medical advisors need to keep focussed on real hazards in society such as preventable medical error (1,500 deaths in New Zealand) and the thousand or more deaths from properly researched, properly regulated, properly prescribed and properly used drugs each year in New Zealand. "There is a desperate need for officials and their advisors to develop evidence based advice and regulations," said Ron Law. "They are encouraged to learn to base both on evidence, rather that uninformed opinion or oral tradition."


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