6 Tips To Avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis While Flying

By:    Published: November 18, 2011

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Sitting through a long flight can be a challenge for several reasons. You might feel cramped, you might get jetlag from traveling to another time zone and boredom sets in pretty quickly. However, there are more dangerous risks associated with long flights as well – specifically, deep vein thrombosis. People on long flights are at risk for developing this condition, so it’s important to understand how it occurs and take steps to avoid it. In this article, you’ll find some background information on deep vein thrombosis and the best prevention tactics.

What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis, sometimes referred to as DVT, occurs when a blood clot forms in a major vein of the body. This condition occurs most often in the legs and can often develop as a result of sitting still in for long periods of time. Several factors come into play to make DVT more of a threat for those flying for several hours. The way that your legs are positioned while flying, the low cabin pressure and the likelihood that dehydration will occur and thicken the blood all puts you at risk for developing these types of blood clots. If the clot were to break loose, it could get lodged in your lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism. A large enough clot can be fatal, so it’s important to take steps to prevent this condition from occurring.

Tips For Avoiding Deep Vein Thrombosis

Though people flying for long periods of time are at a higher risk for developing a DVT, there are methods to help actively avoid them. Here are some of the ways that you can help prevent yourself from getting a DVT while flying:

  1. Unfortunately, DVT often occurs with little to no symptoms so it can be hard to detect. Travelers should always be on the lookout for any pain or swelling in their legs while flying for long periods of time since these subtle symptoms could signal a clot forming.
  2. Get up and walk around the cabin every 15 to 30 minutes when possible. This will allow your legs to stretch out and keep your blood moving normally. Be sure to pay attention to signals from the captain and flight attendants so that you are not walking around when it is unsafe.
  3. Drink water often. Staying hydrated will prevent your blood from thickening up and becoming more susceptible to clotting. Avoid alcoholic beverages, caffeinated products and salty snacks which may dehydrate you even further.
  4. Limit your periods of sleep. If you have a particularly long flight, you may be tempted to sleep through most of it to make the trip go by faster. However, sleeping in a sitting position for long periods of time can increase your risk of DVT, so try to limit your sleep to 30 minutes increments when possible.
  5. Do some stretching exercises while sitting in your chair. In addition to limbering up and helping to pass the time, you’ll reduce your risk of DVT. Start by rotating your ankles in each direction. Then, bend at the ankle and point your toes down then up to stretch your foot forwards and backwards. Finally, curl and release your toes to increase blood flow.
  6. If you can, splurge for first class seating. You’ll have a larger seat and more leg room, which will allow you to move around more while seated instead of being stuck in one stiff position. Even if you are seated in first class, however, you should still get up and walk around periodically and use the other methods described above to prevent DVT.

Knowing Your Risk and Seeking Medical Attention

It’s important to note that people with certain health conditions may be at a higher risk for DVT than others who are also flying for long periods of time. If you have chronic heart or respiratory failure, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer or an inherited or acquired predisposition for developing clots or varicose veins, you are among the most susceptible to DVT. Additionally, people who are over the age of 40, obese, pregnant, smokers and those who have recently undergone major surgery or have been bed-ridden have a higher risk as well. If you take contraceptives or are undergoing hormone replacement therapy, your risk for DVT may also be increased. Individuals who fall into these categories should be especially vigilant about preventing DVT.

Deep vein thrombosis can be difficult to detect, but swelling, pain or warmth in the ankle, foot or leg are some of the common symptoms. If you suspect that you may have a DVT, see a doctor right away.

Additionally, travelers should be aware of the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, which could occur when a DVT clot breaks loose and travels to the lungs. If you become suddenly short of breath, experience chest pain when taking a deep breath, feel lightheaded or dizzy, cough up blood or develop a rapid pulse, get medical attention right away.

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