If most of us had a choice, we’d rather be tall than short. But a new study shows that being vertically challenged has at least one big health advantage: a lower risk of dangerous blood clots called venous thromboembolisms (VTEs).
After studying more than 2 million people, researchers from Lund University in Malmo, Sweden, found that the risk of VTEs was strongly associated with height. The shortest participants had the lowest risk.1
You may not think of VTEs as a major health risk. But they kill thousands of Americans a year. They usually start in the deep veins of the legs. The clots can go to the heart, lungs, or brain. This can cause a heart attack, pulmonary embolism, or stroke.
VTEs strike 600,000 Americans every year. They are the third-leading cause of heart attack and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
The study found:
- Men shorter than 5-foot-3 have a 65% lower risk for VTEs than men 6-foot-2 or taller.
- Pregnant women have an elevated risk for VTEs. But pregnant women shorter than 5-foot-1 have a 69% lower risk than those 6 feet or taller.2
The most common triggers for VTE are surgery, cancer, hospitalization, and sitting or lying down for long periods. People who take long plane or car trips are at higher risk.
In women, besides pregnancy, the use of hormones for birth control or menopause treatment raises VTE risk.
Dr. Bengt Zöller is an associate professor at Lund University and Malmö University Hospital in Malmö, Sweden. She led the study.
Dr. Zöller notes that human height is increasing over time. This may be the reason the incidence of VTE is rising. Another cause may be that more people work at jobs in which they sit all day.
The researchers don’t know exactly why tall people have higher risk. They speculate that taller people are more susceptible because of their longer legs. Their longer blood vessels slow the flow of blood from the legs to the heart. This may promote blood clot formation.3
In addition, Dr. Zoller said, “There is also more gravitational pressure in leg veins of taller persons that can increase the risk of blood flow slowing or temporarily stopping.”
The study was recently published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics.4
4 Ways to Prevent Blood Clots
“Height is not something we can do anything about,” Dr. Zoller notes. But there are steps people can take if they are prone to blood clots.
To prevent them during long-distance travel, experts offer these tips:
- Drink lots of fluids.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Walk and stretch at half-hour intervals.
- Special stockings that compress the legs below the knee may help prevent blood clots. However, talk to your doctor before you try them. Some people should not wear them (for example, those with diabetes or problems with blood circulation).5
If you are tall, don’t despair. Previous studies have shown you have several health advantages. Tall people generally have a lower risk for dementia and congestive heart failure.6