flying health
Travel Tips

Air travel tips from a blood clot survivor

Did you know that when flying for four hours or longer you have three times the risk of developing a blood clot compared to the same amount of time back on the ground?

Air travel tips – Deep vein thrombosis and long distance travel

Figures regarding the level of risk differ depending on where your research takes you, however, the consensus is that if you travel for any extended amount of time (and this also includes by car or train) then there is a higher chance that a blood clot could form in your deep veins.

I knew very little about blood clots before I had one of my own back in 2000. Mine wasn’t actually caused by travel, but rather an undiagnosed autoimmune disease called APS, but even so the results were the same – swelling, pain and in my case, permanent damage to my lower body. I now live with post-thrombotic syndrome and have to deal with travelling with an invisible illness. Although I don’t let my condition stop me from travelling I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, which is why I decided to write this post.  My extensive clotting is very rare but even the smallest clot can cause irreconcilable damage, so its really important to take care of your body when you fly!

What causes a blood clot?

Basically, blood clots, also known as DVTs (Deep Vein Thrombosis), are when blood begins to stick to the walls of your deep veins (often, but not always, your legs) causing a blockage. This alone is very bad, but the biggest issue is the risk the clot may break off and move up to your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal.

Be assured, in reality the risk of getting a DVT from flying is very low, but when the result of a clot can be so life-changing, why do so few people seem to bother taking the very simple precautions that can prevent blood clots from forming?

How to avoid a DVT on long haul flights

Yup you guessed it, I turn into a bit of a health Nazi when travelling with friends and family, nagging them about all the things they should and shouldn’t be doing when they fly. Just a few basic things can lower your risk dramatically, so I thought I’d share my nagging advice with you, my fellow travel lovers, to make sure you stay safe on your adventures. You’ll be surprised how little you actually need to do!

Wear loose fitting, comfortable clothes

You’re not on the beach yet, or our on the town, you’re stuck in a flying tin can for the however many next hours, so make sure you’re comfortable!

Tight clothing can restrict blood flow that may already be struggling due to the confined space you’re in, so ditch your skinny jeans and go for something loose and flowing instead.

Put on compression socks – or even better, tights

Compression garments are actually becoming more and more popular with sporty folk thanks to the fact that they help improve blood flow. This has actually led to a much wider range of compression clothing, with a more fashionable look – something that’s made me very happy!

 Gone are my thick, uncomfy NHS compression tights, instead replaced by Sigvaris’ much more stylish range – to look at them you wouldn’t know they’re not your average hosiery.

They may be rather costly at around £75 a pair, but these things could save your life! I choose tights as they provide support to my entire lower body, but you can also get stockings and socks if you’d don’t want to go the whole hog.

Keep hydrated

Such a simple one! By keeping your body hydrated you lower your risk of a DVT so be sure to keep drinking water throughout your flight. And don’t just wait for the air hostess to come around, take on an empty water bottle with you and whenever you run out wander on over to the galley area and ask for them to fill you up. Even better, some airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic, have water dispensers on board so you can do it yourself.

But when it comes to keeping hydrated this also means you need to…

Stay away from alcohol and caffeine

Sorry! I know a lot of people like to start their holiday off with a tipple or two on board, but seriously, it’s not worth the risk. Alcohol and caffeine can further dehydrate you, so please, just hold off downing the holiday ‘spirit’ until you’ve reached your destination?

Emergency exit seats are a great option if you have the chance!
Emergency exit seats are a great option if you have the chance!

 Keep active

Immobility is one of the biggest causes of deep vein thrombosis in the air, which is pretty understandable. But by keeping active, even with some gentle in-seat exercises, you can help any blood clots stop from forming.

Many airlines now leave you little cards outlining exercises you can do along with your in-flight magazine, so be sure to keep your eyes out for those. Virgin, for example, also has their exercises available online. But if you’d like to get some ideas before boarding, here are a couple of useful videos offering in-flight seat exercises.

Quantas in-flight exercises

Sit and be fit – airplaine exercises to avoid DVT

How to prevent blood clots while flying

It’s also important to get up and walk around – preferably every hour try and walk a loop of the plane, which gets your blood pumping, and your body out of that one position. If you follow my advice to keep hydrated you won’t find it a problem at all, as you’ll need to get up to pop to the loo every hour or so anyway! 😉

Don’t take sleeping tablets

I totally get that for many long-haul flights can be dull and one way to waste time is with a good snooze. Also, for those on night flights, getting some sleep can help you adjust your body clock to your new destination. Even so, sleeping for a big chunk of your flight is not a good move as you’re inactive. So, please, please don’t pop some pills to help you stay in ‘la la land’ for a long time, ok?

If you do need to get some shuteye though, which I totally understand, I recommend setting an alarm on your phone and popping it in your pocket to wake you up after a certain amount of time.

If I need to get some sleep I set a vibrate alarm to go off after an hour, and then when it starts buzzing, I do a quick walk up and down the aisle, chuck in some stretches, then go back and start again. Yes, you won’t be the most refreshed, but you’ll have got some rest at least, all while keeping your risk of DVTs to a minimum.

Consider taking an aspirin pre-flight

As someone with a natural tendencies to clot I am on life-long blood thinning medication, so this isn’t for me, but it’s worth noting that Aspirin has blooding thinning tendencies and I’ve heard many people being recommended to take half an aspirin tablet before a flight in order to stave off clotting.

However, don’t do this without consulting your GP first, as it may mess with other medication you’re taking or affect other health conditions you may have. If you’re concerned about getting a blood clot through flying, why not book an appointment with your doctor beforehand to discuss your concerns…

Blood clot/DVT advice

For more information on DVTs and the symptoms to look out for I recommend checking out the following websites.

NHS – Deep Vein Thrombosis

NHS – APS

Thrombosis UK

Stop the clot

I’m not a medical expert, but if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll help if I can!

 

Air travel tips from a blood clot survivor

 

By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

4 Comments

  • Ania

    Thanks for this advice – we can all benefit from following it, and not just on long-haul trips! I’m so pleased that your condition hasn’t stopped you going on all your adventures, and if anything has probably made you determined to do more big trips than you would have.

    • Keri

      Thanks Ania, well you know how stubborn I can be! Yes, I’m hoping everyone will take on board even some of this advice when they travel, could make such a difference! K x

  • Penny Loosenort

    Hi, thank you for writing this article. I have been trying to research the issue of flying with “post thrombotic syndrome”. My husband has this condition as a result of having many DVT’s in both legs ( more then 30 DVT’s in each leg). He has Leiden Factor Five. Several clots in each leg never dissolved but scared over, hence leaving him with the PTS. He does follow all the advice you have given in this article. We just flew recently from Florida to Michigan to see our daughters for Thanksgiving. I took him to ER a few days ago believing he had another blood clot (swollen painful knee not able to put pressure down on it to walk.) Fortunately no new acute clots. The ER doctor felt in it due to the PTS. Have you had experience with the symptoms of PTS becoming worse after flying? He is on life long Eliquis. He also loves to play tennis but seems to be prone to “injury”, such as pulling calf muscles. Have you had experience of being more prone to injuries in your legs since the PTS? Thank you for your insight of what you have and are experiencing with the PTS.

    • Keri

      Hi Penny, Im so glad you found my article useful. Yes I do find that my symptoms get worse during and after my flight. I often get a lot of bruising after a flight, this was something a lot worse during the early days though, 20 years later the bruising isn’t as extreme thankfully.

      Whenever I fly I do expect my legs to ache more, feel heavier and overall be more uncomfortable but I’ve thankfully never yet had any further clots etc related to taking flights. It’s just managing the pain as best as you can.

      Injury wise I’ve only been prone to more bleeding from the blood thinners – so I bruise a lot more, but my PTS is too bad for me to play sports unfortunately (I can’t do anything that involves running).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: