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Deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis
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Should I be concerned about deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

You may have heard the term deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, in relation to long-haul air travel. It’s important to understand what it is, what causes it and what the symptoms are to prevent this serious condition.

What is DVT?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside your body. The clot is a clump of thickened blood and can form a blockage in a blood vessel. Deep vein blood clots typically form in your thigh or lower leg, but they can also develop in other areas of your body.

Know if you’re at risk

You are at risk if you stay seated for a long period of time, especially during a flight of six hours or more. Certain conditions may also change how your blood moves through your veins, and coupled with a long flight these may increase your risk of developing clots. These include:

  • being overweight
  • having a family history of DVT
  • taking birth control pills or undergoing hormone therapy
  • smoking
  • having undergone recent surgery
  • existing conditions like cancer and heart disease
  • pregnancy
Know the symptoms

Many people don’t know they have DVT until they suffer from a pulmonary embolism – a life-threatening complication of the condition in which an artery in the lung becomes blocked, requiring emergency treatment. Some early signs to watch out for are:

  • Painful swelling in one foot, ankle or leg
  • Cramping pain in your calf
  • A patch of skin on your leg that is warmer to the touch than surrounding areas
  • The affected patch of skin turning a red or blue colour

The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism are more dramatic. Watch out for:

  • Sudden dizziness, sweating and collapse
  • Chest pain that worsens when inhaling
  • Coughing up blood and rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate

The condition can be fatal, and it’s important you receive medical assistance as soon as possible. Treating DVT promptly will help minimize the risk of complications. Make sure you have full travel insurance to cover the cost of any healthcare you may need while abroad.

DVT prevention

Wearing a properly fitted pair of flight stockings can lower the risk. The below-knee stockings apply gentle pressure to the ankle to help the blood flow correctly. They come in a variety of sizes and different levels of compression. It’s important that they are measured and worn correctly as ill-fitting stockings could further increase the risk of DVT. Take advice on size and proper fitting from a healthcare professional.

Keep well hydrated throughout the flight, avoid alcohol and, mostly importantly, keep your body moving. Take a walk up and down the cabin at least once an hour during the flight, and wriggle your feet frequently. Many airlines have developed in-flight exercise routines to increase your blood’s circulation.

If you have a flight booked and you’re worried about DVT, book an appointment with your doctor to discuss any existing risks or a consultation with a travel health nurse who can offer advice about DVT prevention, and will answer any other questions you may have about staying healthy during your trip.