Air Flights – Avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis When On Vacation

by Dorothy Yamich

Commercial air flights cause airline passengers blood to become thicker and slow down, especially in the lower extremities, which can increase the possibility of developing blood clots. The longer the flight, the greater the medical risk. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is caused by a blood clot forming in one of a persons legs. This is a very serious medical emergency. If this dangerous clot breaks off, it may travel to the lungs which then could be fatal.

A common misconception is that younger, physically fit athletes are less likely to develop deep vein thrombosis. Recent scientific research indicates that many people with a slower at rest blood flow, such as athletes, are actually more at risk than the general population. Having a history of swollen legs can also be a factor. Other people at risk are those that have, or have had, a serious medical condition such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. Also, women that are pregnant, or on birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, tend to be more prone to deep vein thrombosis. Obesity can also be a factor.

There are actually two sets of symptoms pertaining to deep vein thrombosis that you should be aware of. The first milder set of symptoms may appear during your flight or within the following couple of days. These symptoms are redness, swelling, tenderness, or cramps in one of your lower legs, or some swelling or bruising behind one of your knees. The second set of symptoms are more severe and usually appear within two or more days after a blood clot has formed. They are fainting, shortness of breath, rapid or painful breathing, chest pain which can be accompanied by pain in the shoulder, coughing up blood, and a fever.

What can contribute to these dangerous symptoms?

Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, can occur in your lower legs anytime you are sitting in one position for a long time without moving. Research indicates that you are at three times the risk of developing this serious medical condition when you fly. When you drive, travel by bus or train, or even sit in your favorite easy chair at home you can also be at risk.

As an airline passenger, how can you prevent this life-threatening condition from happening?

You can help prevent deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, from developing by increasing circulation in your legs. If you are predisposed to any of the above risks you may want to book an aisle seat to give you more room to move and allow you to get up and walk around anytime without disturbing the other passengers.

Some experts suggest you wear loose clothing and avoid wearing tightly fitting slacks and elastic support stockings or socks; move and exercise your legs frequently while sitting; change your sitting position often; not sitting with you legs crossed; walk up and down the aisle every half-hour or so, and drink a sports drink such as Gatorade so you do not become dehydrated.

It is very common for deep vein thrombosis to be misdiagnosed which can be fatal. If you develop any of the above mentioned symptoms you must seek medical help immediately. Inform the physician who is treating you that have just flown recently and you think that it is a blood clot. If the doctor doesnt think it is deep vein thrombosis, ask him or her to order an ultrasound of your leg to be sure. If you are experiencing chest problems insist that he do a simple and painless blood oxygen measurement on your finger. It takes only a few minutes and will prevent a serious misdiagnosis of your condition.

AirHealth.org, is an excellent website. This professional, non-profit organization is dedicated to your health when you travel on commercial airline flights. There is a lot of valuable up-to-date information and research on their website about deep vein thrombosis that could save your life. They also have a free wallet-sized flyer that you can download and take with you when you fly. This flyer is available in English, French, and Spanish.