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Deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis
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Do I need to worry about deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a potentially life-threatening condition that is known to affect air travellers, particularly those on long-haul flights. If you are about to embark on a flight that lasts longer than six hours, you should know about DVT, its causes and symptoms.

What is DVT?

Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot (thrombus), a clump of thickened blood forms and blocks a blood vessel deep in your body. DVTs often occur in the thigh or lower leg, but do appear in other parts of the body.

Am I at risk from DVT?

Your risk of a DVT forming increases if you stay seated for a long time – for example during a flight of six hours or more. There are some medical conditions that change how blood moves through your veins, and these raise the risk of a thrombus forming. These conditions 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
What are the symptoms of DVT?

Some early signs of DVT 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

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. 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

A pulmonary embolism 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.

What can I do to avoid DVT?

Flight stockings are thought to lower the risk of DVT. These below-knee stockings encourage bloodflow by applying gentle pressure to the ankle. They need to be properly fitted: take advice from a healthcare professional. 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.

Drink plenty on the flight – but not alcohol.

Keep moving during your flight. Try to walk up and down the cabin once an hour and give your feet a good wiggle from time to time. 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.