Physician associate shares the importance of staying active on long flights


‘Why is this not discussed more often’: Healthcare provider issues PSA, says birth control users should stretch on long flights

'Keep moving when you can.'


V Roth


Posted on Oct 16, 2023

A physician associate recently shared tips for birth control users to prevent life-threatening blood clots on long-haul flights. 

In a TikTok posted Wednesday, user Charlotte Thompson (@charlottegrace009) shows herself doing calf raises and stretches in the aisle of an airplane.

“My doctor fiancé making me do this every two hours on the plane because I’m on the pill,” she wrote in the video’s text overlay. By Monday afternoon, her video had over 11.6 million views. 

@charlottegrace009 Always taking care of me #docotor #flyingtips #flighttips #femalethings ♬ Lil Boo Thang – Paul Russell

Physician associate Simi (@simisolaoa) responded with her own video explaining why Thompson’s fiancée had encouraged her to exercise on the plane: to prevent potentially life-threatening blood clots, known as deep vein thrombosis. 

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in a “deep vein,” usually in the lower legs. The clot can affect blood flow to the area, or cut off blood flow altogether.

Sometimes, these blood clots can break free and travel to other parts of the body, including the lungs. When this happens, there’s a risk of pulmonary embolism or a possibly fatal blockage in the blood vessels of the lungs. 

Simi explains in the video that those using birth control, especially combination estrogen and progestin birth control methods, are at higher risk of developing DVT. 

Most birth control methods utilize synthetic estrogen and progestin, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone that human bodies naturally produce. Estrogen increases the blood’s clotting ability, and certain types of progestin, particularly drospirenone and desogestrel, can increase the risk of developing blood clots. 

Although the risk of developing DVT due to birth control is relatively low, it still affects about 10 in 10,000 people per year. Symptoms of DVT include swelling, discoloration such as redness or purpling, cramping that usually begins in the calf, and a feeling of warmth at the site of the clot. 

Simi says that long-haul flights are also a risk factor in developing DVT. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that this is due to sitting in a confined space for prolonged periods of time with little to no activity.

As a result, circulation between the heart and the legs slows, which can result in the formation of blood clots. This can affect anyone, but certain lifestyle factors such as birth control can increase the risk. 

“As you can see, this lady is on a long flight and she’s on the pill,” Simi says in her video. “So that’s two risk factors for developing DVT.” 

@simisolaoa #Stitch @Charlotte Thompson Why its important to move when you’re flying and on the pill! #physicianassociate #physicianassistant #gynae #gynecology #contraception ♬ Lil Boo Thang – Paul Russell

To mitigate the risk, Simi offers a relatively simple solution: “Keep moving when you can.” Like Thompson’s fiancée, she recommends doing calf stretches. She also recommends wearing compression socks. 

Compression socks work by using tightness to stimulate circulation in the hands and feet. This can prevent numbness, tingling, and swelling on long flights that occur as a result of prolonged sitting. They can also help lower the risk of developing DVT. 

Wearing compression socks on long-haul flights has become a well-known travel hack on TikTok, as many travel content creators swear by them.

Many commenters on Thompson’s video were stunned that they’d never been informed about the risk of blood clots associated with birth control. 

“I have literally never had a dr tell me about this,” one user commented. “I’ve been on the pill for 10 years.” 

“After my 13 hour travel day my legs felt like they were going to explode. Literally explode,” another wrote. 

In the comments of Simi’s video, some commenters shared their own experiences with blood clots and DVT and urged birth control users to take the risks seriously. 

“[I] was on BC for 4 months and ended up in the ER for bilateral pulmonary embolisms at 25. Wish I’d known this then,” one user wrote. 

“This happened to me! Was flying a lot across country and never got up to move around,” another shared. “Almost died in my sleep cause the blood clots went to my lungs.” ” 

Vascular surgeon Danielle Bajakian, director of the Vein Program at Columbia University’s Department of Surgery, shared a few tips to help mitigate the risk of developing blood clots while traveling. Among them are staying hydrated, moderating caffeine and alcohol intake, and getting in movement wherever possible.

“Calf raises, and stretching are so important,” she said. “A lot of airlines actually have a pamphlet in their magazine that shows you those mobility exercises, and it actually works. It gets the circulation going.”

In addition, she urged passengers not to keep their belongings in front of them on the floor so that their legs have more room.

“Put everything in your overhead bin,” she said. “Otherwise you don’t have room to move. Doing exercises and staying hydrated are really the best tools we have on long flights.”

The Daily Dot reached out to Thompson via TikTok comment and Simi via email.

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*First Published: Oct 16, 2023, 4:28 pm CDT