The Facts About Deep Vein Thrombosis


DVT is a very serious condition that can affect you when you fly. What is it and what can you do about it?

DVT, or Deep Vein Thrombosis, is a serious condition where blood clots develop in the deep veins of the legs. One in every hundred people who develop DVT dies. The cause of death is usually a blood clot, travelling from the legs to the lungs. This is called pulmonary embolus or PE. When PE is severe it causes the lungs to collapse and heart failure.

What are the signs of DVT?

You may get swelling, pain, tenderness and redness - especially at the back of the leg below the knee (This is different from the mild ankle swelling that many people get during long haul flights; and DVT, usually though not always, affects only one leg). These complaints may develop during the journey but more commonly hours or even days later.

The risk of DVT and PE is greater in people who are:

  • over 40 years of age
  • who have had blood clots already
  • with a family history of blood clots
  • suffering from or who have had treatment for cancer
  • with certain blood diseases
  • being treated for heart failure and circulation problems
  • who have had recent surgery especially on the hips or knees
  • who have an inherited clotting tendency

also in women who:

  • are pregnant
  • have recently had a baby
  • are taking the contraceptive pill
  • are on hormone replacement therapy or HRT

How to reduce the possible risk of DVT on long haul

There are a number of simple ways that you can help to ensure you are reducing the risk of future problems:

  • be comfortable in your seat
  • bending and straightening your legs, feet and toes while seated every half-hour or so during the flight is advised
  • pressing the balls of your feet down hard against the floor or foot-rest will also help increase the blood flow in your legs and reduce clotting
  • upper body and breathing exercises can further improve circulation
  • take occasional short walks, when in-flight advice suggests this is safe
  • take advantage of refuelling stopovers where it may be possible to get off the plane and walk about
  • drink plenty of water
  • be sensible about alcohol, which in excess leads to dehydration and immobility
  • avoid taking sleeping pills, which also cause immobility

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