With borders reopening and international travel restrictions lifted, you may be planning to head overseas for a vacation or to be with friends and family. Here’s what you need to know about the potential risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on long haul flights and what you can do to prevent it.
What is deep vein thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis is a condition caused by blood clot formation in one or more deep veins in the body, usually in the legs. Deep vein thrombosis can be potentially serious if blood clots in the deep veins break free, travel through the bloodstream and get stuck in a blood vessel in the lung, blocking blood flow. This condition is also known as pulmonary embolism and can be potentially fatal.
What are the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis?
Warning signs of deep vein thrombosis can include:
- Sudden swelling in the foot, ankle or leg, usually on one side
- Cramping and pain in the affected leg that often begins in the calf
- Warmth in the affected area
- Enlarged veins
- Skin on the affected area turning pale, red or blue, depending on the skin tone
If a blood clot develops in the arm, the following symptoms may develop:
- Neck or shoulder pain
- Swelling in the arm or hand
- Skin turning blue or darker tones
- Pain in the arm that travels to the forearm
- Weakness in the hand
What are the causes of deep vein thrombosis?
You may be at a higher risk for deep vein thrombosis if you:
- Are inactive for a prolonged period, such as being on bed rest after surgery and during a long haul flight
- Have underlying medical conditions that affect blood clotting
- Suffered damage to a blood vessel’s wall, which narrows or blocks blood flow and can result in blood clot formation
- Are taking certain medications that increase the likelihood of blood clot formation
- Have high cholesterol
- Are pregnant
- Have a family history of deep vein thrombosis
- Are overweight or obese
- Are over age 60
If you are concerned about your risks of developing deep vein thrombosis or think you might have the condition, see a doctor immediately. Treatment for DVT will focus on preventing the blood clot from getting bigger and preventing the occurrence of pulmonary embolism.
Depending on your condition, your doctor may prescribe blood-thinning medications that prevent existing blood clots from growing bigger. If you have severe DVT, your doctor may prescribe thrombolytic drugs that dissolve blood clots.
How to reduce your risk of deep vein thrombosis on long haul flights
Here are some ways to reduce your risk of developing DVT on long haul flights:
- Stay hydrated – drink plenty of water, limit your intake of caffeine and avoid alcohol
- Avoid wearing tight clothing that restricts blood flow
- Avoid crossing your legs
- Move around every few hours by walking up and down the aisles when it is safe to do so
- Stretch your legs and feet while in sitting position
- Consider wearing compression stockings, which can prevent swelling and lower your risk of developing blood clots
- Try the following exercises while seated:
- Position your feet flat on the floor and slide your feet forward a few inches, then slide them back. Repeat ten times. This exercise targets your thigh muscles.
- Extend your legs to the front and flex your ankles. Spread your toes upward and outwards, then curl them downwards. Repeat this exercise ten times. You may remove your shoes if necessary.
- If there isn’t space to extend your legs, position your feet flat on the floor and curl your toes inwards while lifting your heels off the floor. Then, place your heels back on the floor and lift and spread your toes. Repeat ten times.