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?
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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.
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?
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.
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.
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!