For Immediate Release
Contact: Jerry Carey
Jersey Medical School
Researchers Connect Common Heart Condition to "Economy
Class Stroke Syndrome"
Researchers at the University
of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) have reported a
possible link between a common physical defect in the heart and
potentially deadly stroke that could occur during long airplane
The researchers, led
by Dr. Patrick Pullicino, chairman of the Department of Neurosciences
at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, reported the connection, called
"economy class stroke syndrome," in three healthy, young travelers
who suffered ischemic strokes during or shortly after long air trips.
"What's remarkable is
that all three patients were under 50 years of age and all were
healthy, non-obese, non-smokers with no vascular risk factors and
therefore not expected to be at risk for stroke," Dr. Pullicino
said. "Several previous studies have pointed out that travelers
aboard prolonged airplane flights are at risk for developing blood
clots in their legs (deep vein thrombosis) that may travel to their
lungs (pulmonary embolism) and may be fatal.
Prolonged sitting associated
with air travel in known to be a cause of clots forming in the legs.
Upwards of 30 percent of the normal population is estimated to have
patent furaman ovale (PFO), a common condition where a small hole
exists between the right and left sides of the heart. PFO rarely
causes any adverse medical condition and can only be determined
through specific diagnostic tests such as an echocardiogram.
The research, published
in the March 26 edition of Neurology, recounts the cases
of three air travelers who sustained a stroke during or after a
flight. The first traveler suffered sudden loss of vision four hours
into a 12-hour flight and the second developed paralysis down one
side of the body at the conclusion of a 14-hour flight. The third
person lost hearing in one ear 12 hours after completing two 90-minute
flights, separated by a six-hour wait in an airport transit lounge.
The three individuals
were all found to have ischemic strokes, the most common type of
stroke. It occurs when a clot that is formed in a blood vessel,
breaks loose and travels to the brain where it blocks the flow of
"Because PFO is so common,
more people may be at risk for strokes during or after prolonged
air travel," Dr. Pullicino said. "This is particularly true for
people who have a history of deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism
or prior strokes. I would strongly urge people with these conditions
to ask their physicians if they also have PFO."
Although "economy class
stroke" may be difficult to predict, Dr. Pullicino offered these
suggestions to help travelers avoid falling victim to this syndrome
during flights that last longer than four hours:
- Drink plenty of liquids
to avoid becoming dehydrated. When the body dehydrates, the blood
starts to thicken and becomes more likely to clot.
- Avoid alcohol because
it causes the body to dehydrate.
- Get up and move around
frequently to keep blood from pooling in the legs. If unable to
get up to move around, exercise the lower legs by extending them
and flexing the ankles and toes. Exercise the thighs by sliding
the feet back and forth on the floor.
- Wear compression stockings
to help prevent the formation of blood clots in the legs.
Dr. Pullicino also suggested
that travelers check with their physicians to see if they require
any additional preventive measures before embarking on a long air
The UMDNJ-New Jersey
Medical School is one of three medical schools of the University
of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. UMDNJ comprises New Jersey's
only medical schools, the state's only dental school, a nursing
school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health
related professions and a school of public health on campuses in
Newark, Piscataway/New Brunswick, Camden, Stratford, and Scotch
Plains. UMDNJ also operates University Hospital, Newark, and University
Behavioral HealthCare. It is affiliated with more than 200 health
care and educational institutions throughout the state.