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Woman dies from blood clot after long-haul flight

LONDON, England -- The mother of a bride-to-be who died from so-called "economy class syndrome" following a long-haul flight has called for airlines to issue health warnings.

Fitness fanatic Emma Christoffersen died suddenly from a blood clot brought on by sitting in a Qantas airline seat for 20 hours during a 10,000-mile journey from Australia.

The 28-year-old from Newport, South Wales, is one of the youngest victims of deep-veined thrombosis, a sudden condition that kills dozens of airline passengers each year.

The Marks & Spencer sales assistant, who had been on a three-week trip to Australia, complained of feeling unwell on the last part of the flight.

She collapsed in the arrival hall at Heathrow airport and died before reaching hospital.

Qantas said her flight from Melbourne to London was completed in two stages -- a 7.5-hour flight from Melbourne to Singapore, followed by a 1.5-hour stopover when she would have got off the plane and then a 13.5-hour flight from Singapore to London.

A post mortem examination confirmed the cause of death as DVT, in which a blood clot in the leg works its way into the heart or lungs.

The victim's mother, Ruth, 54, also from Newport, told reporters: "We were told she died from sitting on the jet for such a long time.

"I don't see why the dangers could not be spelled out during the normal safety warning just before take-off."

'Just like Russian roulette'

The condition is frequently caused by long periods spent in cramped conditions.

Tightly packed seating -- such as that found in the economy class section of airliners -- can restrict movement and trigger the blood clot illness.

Mrs Christoffersen said: "I want every air passenger to know the dangers of this condition and that it can hit young people.

"It seems to strike at random and in a way is just like Russian roulette."

The distance between seats in economy class varies between airlines -- on British Airways, for instance, it is 31 inches, on American Airlines 34 inches while on Qantas it is 32 inches.

A spokeswoman for Qantas said: "We are seeking further medical details following the death of a woman who travelled from Melbourne to London on September 29.

"We have not received any notification of the death from the family or the medical authorities and we are trying to contact the family to express our condolences and to seek further details of the case."

She added: "Passengers on any airline in the world could be susceptible to blood clots forming in the legs.

"The safety of our passengers is always of paramount importance and we refer to the possible effects of flying in our in-flight magazine."

John Scurr, a consultant vascular surgeon at London's Middlesex Hospital, has a led a study into "economy class syndrome" which is due to be published before Christmas.

Of the 200 airline passengers who took part in the study, he says "quite a number have developed clots, although no one has died."

He told "The numbers of those affected are not known, but everyone who works in airports knows many passengers arrive with swollen legs and in some cases they are taken to hospital and occasionally someone dies.

"Our study aims to find out if it is a common problem or not. We know it is something that is more likely to affect older people and it is relatively unusual for a younger person to be affected, unless they already have a tendency to clot.

"It's a widely recognised problem, but the scale of it is not yet known."

As well as long-haul flights, those undertaking lengthy car and train journeys may also be at risk of blood clots, according to a study of the problem carried out last year in France.

Dr Emile Ferrari, a cardiologist at the Hospital Pasteur in Nice, studied 160 people who arrived with clots.

He found that people admitted to hospital suffering from blood clots were four times as likely to have just completed such a journey as those admitted for other similar problems.

Dr Ferrari said the risks his team uncovered were greater than previous estimates based on less rigorous studies and were probably "only the tip of the iceberg of all cases occurring after travel."

The British Heart Foundation advises passengers on flights lasting more than two hours to walk along the aisles at regular intervals and do feet exercises when sitting down to aid circulation.

A statement issued by the foundation says: "If you have recently undergone surgery or have suffered from deep vein thrombosis, you may be advised by your doctor to use support stockings.

"We also advise to avoid excess alcohol, stay hydrated and anyone who has painful or swollen calves after a flight should see their doctor."

Some doctors say an aspirin tablet taken a few hours before take-off would cut the number of victims by thinning the blood and helping prevent clots.

Qantas Airways
Heathrow Airport
Aviation Health Institute
Deep Vein Thrombosis
British Heart Foundation

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