If your passport has more stamps than the post office, you’re probably a travel pro who understands that long flights are just part of the journey to a beautiful destination. Although being able to sit for an extended amount of time is an acquired skill, it does come with some risks no matter how much of an experienced traveler you are, one of those being deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
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The first reported case of travel-related DVT happened in 1954 when a doctor developed a blood clot after a 14-hour flight. DVT happens when blood flows too slowly through the veins, eventually forming a blood clot deep in the veins (hence the name). These clots typically form in the legs and are life threatening. If left untreated, you can develop a pulmonary embolism, which happens when the blood clot breaks away and travels to the lung.
Are you high risk?
Anyone can experience DVT, but the following can increase DVT risk when flying for eight hours or more:
- A recent operation (within the previous two months)
- Prior history of DVT or PE
- Blood clotting disorders like polycythaemia or thrombophilia
- Being very short or very tall
- Having a close relative with DVT or PE
- Women on the combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) or hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Recent chronic illness such as heart attack or pneumonia
If a long flight is in your future, use these tips to keep your legs healthy:
Drink lots of water – Water helps with circulation and prevents dehydration. Try to drink more water leading up to your trip instead of guzzling water during the flight.
Don’t take sleeping pills – Sleeping pills do exactly what they’re intended to do and render you immobile.
Wear compression stockings – These knee-high stockings apply gentle pressure to your ankles to help blood flow. Studies have shown that wearing these “flight socks” during flights of four hours or more reduced their risk of leg swelling and DVT significantly.
Avoid alcohol – Alcohol leads to dehydration and immobility.
Exercise your calves and feet – During your flight, take regular breaks to stand and walk up and down the aisle. To increase blood flow to your legs, try exercises like pressing the balls of your feet down hard against the floor or foot rest every so often.
Walk – That long walk to baggage claim after the flight is actually a good thing! If your bag isn’t checked, be sure to spend a little time walking right after your flight to increase circulation.
It’s normal to experience slight swelling (painless) after a long flight, but if you notice painful swelling and difficulty breathing during or after a long flight, please see your doctor immediately. If you are in a high risk group for DVT, it’s best to see your doctor before traveling.
Visit the BlackDoctor.org Deep Vein Thrombosis center for more articles.