Airplane travel is extremely safe but for some people there is a risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. Learn what causes it, its symptoms, and how to avoid it with these tips from Bumrungrad International Hospital.
What is deep vein thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of blood clots in the deep veins within your body, most often in the legs. The danger with DVT is that the clot can come detached and travel to the lungs and block essential blood flow, which is known as a pulmonary embolism.
Immobilization for long periods of time can lead to the development of deep vein thrombosis. This is why sitting on long flights is a concern, particularly for those at risk of developing DVT. People with hereditary diseases in which their blood clots easily, who are pregnant and therefore have increased pressure on their pelvic and leg veins, who have an existing injury to their veins or the adjacent tissue, or who lack mobility due to old age or obesity are at highest risk of developing DVT during a lengthy flight.
Deep vein thrombosis symptoms included swelling of the legs with redness, warmth, or tenderness. You may experience symptoms in only one leg and not both. However, DVT may also occur without any obvious symptoms.
If a blood clot has occurred and has dislodged itself, it can cause a pulmonary embolism. Symptoms of a blood clot blocking a major lung artery include: chest pain particularly when taking a deep breath or during a cough; shortness of breath; rapid pulse; feeling dizzy or lightheaded; and coughing up blood.
Tips to preventing deep vein thrombosis
There are several simple ways to prevent the onset of deep vein thrombosis while flying.
Incorporate light exercises and movement during long flights. Get up and walk around when the seatbelt display light is off. While you are in your seat, do neck rolls, arm stretches, and ankle turns. At the very least, move your lower legs by extending them straight out at the knee and then returning them to a bent position several times. Do not cross your legs or arms during the flight as this can restrict blood flow.
Take your prescribed medication, particularly if you’ve just had surgery and have been prescribed blood thinners. After speaking with your doctor, you may also want to take aspirin or other similar medication that help prevent clots.
Wearing compression stockings or socks while flying is an excellent way to reduce the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. These come in a variety of pressures (from light to strong) and lengths (from knee high to thigh high). These work by applying pressure that helps move blood upwards to your heart and prevents blood pooling in your lower legs and feet. It significantly reduces leg swelling and, to an extent, lessens blood clotting.
Contact Bumrungrad if you think you are suffering from deep vein thrombosis
If you believe you are suffering from deep vein thrombosis because you experience the symptoms as described above, please contact your doctor. Your doctor will evaluate your condition and determine which preventative measures and treatment are right for you.
By Dr. Veeravorn Ariyakhagorn, Specialist for Vascular Surgery, Bumrungrad Hospital.
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