The most important thing you can do on a flight if you're on birth control

portrait of a beautiful tourist woman in casual clothes and backpack standing inside an airplane hugging a pillow looking at the camera, side view
If you take birth control and travel frequently, sitting down for long periods of time on a flight can be dangerous. (Getty Images)

What’s on your holiday checklist? Skincare, check. Comfortable shoes, check. What about birth control? If the contraceptive pill is on your checklist, health experts have highlighted that the most important thing you can do while flying to your destination and back is to get up and move.

Various surveys show that women travel more than men, and interest in solo travel among women has increased significantly over recent years. But if you take the birth control pill, your risk of developing a blood clot increases.

This risk increases even further when flying for long periods of time. According to the NHS, the risk increases with the duration of travel and is more common in people with pre-existing risk factors - which includes taking combined oral contraceptives.

Blood clots can form when prolonged periods of immobility lead to slow blood flow in the veins. They most commonly form in the legs. If parts of the clot break off and travel to the lungs, it can cause the potentially life-threatening condition pulmonary embolism.

Jamie Winn, medical director at Universal Drugstore, says: "Many women around the world chose the birth control pill as their method of contraception. While this medication is generally safe, it can increase your risk of developing certain medical conditions - and that includes blood clots.

"Alongside this, flying for long periods of time can also increase the risk of developing a blood clot due to the fact most people remain seated in the same position for long stretches."

Tired young woman stretching her arms up high while sitting alone by the window on her seat on the plane
It's important to keep active by moving and stretching while on a plane, especially during long haul flights. (Getty Images)

According to Winn, the topmost important thing to do during a flight is to get up and move around, especially if it’s a long-haul flight. This stops you from sitting down for long periods of time and can help keep your blood flowing.

Her six tips include:

  • Stay active: Regular exercise and moving around on the plane.

  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep your blood moving.

  • Wear compression socks: These can help improve blood flow.

  • Take breaks from sitting: Stand up, walk around, stretch and exercise your calf muscles.

  • Avoid blocking the footwell: Don’t block your footwell with hand luggage so you can move your legs and feet with small movements to encourage blood flow.

  • Choose an aisle seat: If you can, pick an aisle seat as this allows you to regularly move from your seat without disturbing others.

The chance of getting a blood clot is very small, affecting up to one in 1,000 people using combined hormonal contraception, according to the NHS.

Before being prescribed the pill, your doctor or nurse will check if you have certain risk factors.

Close-up of young woman's hand holding birth control pills
The risk of getting a blood clot while on the pill is very small. (Getty Images)

The increased risk is due to the hormones contained in the contraceptive pills, specifically oestrogen. Progestin is also used in combined oral contraceptives, alongside oestrogen, but studies have shown that most progestin-only contraceptives do not increase the risk of blood clots.

Birth control pills with oestrogen can raise certain clotting factors and lower a protein that prevents clots, which is why they raise the risk of blood clots.

Winn adds: "It’s important to note that blood clots are rare, and even for those on the pill the rate of incidence is estimated to be 0.06 per 100 pill-years. But blood clots are dangerous and developing one can lead to serious health problems or even death. Blood clots are particularly dangerous if they develop in the lungs, brain, or legs.

"While blood clots are rare, the risk is higher for those on long-distance flights, and those taking the contraceptive pill, so be sure to keep mobile where possible and be cautious of signs that something may be wrong. Symptoms such as swelling in the legs, particularly in just one, shortness of breath, and discoloration of the skin can be warning signs of a blood clot."

  • Throbbing or cramping pain

  • Swelling, redness and warmth in a leg or arm

  • Sudden breathlessness

  • Sharp chest pain

  • A cough or coughing up blood

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