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9 Tips to Prevent a Blood Clot in Flight

A good friend of mine travels the world…literally…on a very frequent basis. On one of her trips to and from Asia, she experienced Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). As a very fit (triathlete) 30 year old woman, this was completely unexpected, and as you can imagine, completely scary. Luckily, she now knows how to prevent deep vein thrombosis, but she still needs to be careful.

DVT symptoms can show when we go for long periods of time without moving. When we move, the leg muscles contract, assisting blood flow to the heart. When we sit idle too long, blood pools in the veins, ultimately raising risk of the formation of a blood clot. Unlike arterial thrombosis, which puts you at risk for a heart attack or stroke, DVT puts one at risk for a pulmonary embolism…meaning that the clot can travel to the lung. Just like arterial thrombosis, however, DVT can be a potentially fatal condition.

In a study published by the online Journal PLoS Medicine, it was found that one in 4,500 people who fly will get DVT. within eight weeks of travel. Further, if you fly four hours or more, your risk is three times that of when you aren’t traveling. In order to prevent deep vein thrombosis, know what increases your risk:

  • The number of flights taken within a short period of time
  • Obesity
  • A person’s frame
  • Use of oral contraception and hormone replacement therapy
  • Inherited blood clotting disorders
  • Also, those who recently have had major surgery, have been bed-ridden or have suffered a blow to the leg
  • Women who are pregnant or who’ve recently had a child

Look out for these DVT symptoms:

  • Unexplained pain or tenderness
  • Redness, swelling and pain in the leg
  • Chest pain (a possible sign the clot has traveled to the lung)
  • Difficulty in breathing (another possible sign the clot has traveled to the lung)

In order to prevent deep vein thrombosis, follow these tips:

  1. Clothing: Wear loose fitted clothing and comfortable shoes. Personally, I like to wear shoes that can be slipped on and off during flight to give my feet some air to breathe.
  2. Choose Seats Wisely: If you aren’t in first or business class, choose an aisle seat or better yet, an exit aisle seat. You’ll have more leg room to stretch out, and you’ll be able to get up and move around the cabin more easily.
  3. Stay Active in Air: Avoid sitting cross legged in your seat and every one to two hours on the flight, get up, stretch and walk up and down the airplane aisles. Also, when you are in your seat, do seated exercises to increase blood flow. Try both of these with your legs stretched out before you: 1) point and flex your tows, 2) rotate your ankles by moving your feet around in circles. Also, take regular deep breaths and if you are a smoker…consider cessation, as smoking can thicken the blood.
  4. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water before and after your flight. Avoid caffeinated and sugary beverages, as they can potentially dehydrate you.
  5. Layover Activity: If you have a layover, spend the time walking around in the airport.
  6. Minimize Long Sleep Periods: Although sleeping can help you to avoid jet lag, try to limit your sleep periods to thirty minutes. This will allow you to adjust your position and move around to keep circulation flowing.
  7. Compression Stockings: Experts suggest that those who have a history of or have experienced DVT symptoms should consider custom fit compressions stockings. Another way to increase circulation is to massage your calves every hour or so.
  8. Sleeping Pills and Alcohol: Both of these substances promote immobility and as a result can decrease movement and circulation. Further, alcohol can dehydrate your system.
  9. Medication: Unlike with a heart attack or stroke, aspirin does not prevent deep vein thrombosis. If you are at higher risk for blood clots and will be taking a long flight, speak to your doctor about receiving a low-molecular-weight heparin injection. If you travel frequently, he or she may prescribe heparin injections you can administer yourself to prevent deep vein thrombosis.

If you experience DVT symptoms in flight, make sure to alert your flight attendant immediately. Have you ever suffered DVT? How do you prevent deep vein thrombosis in flight?

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