Safety in the skies, how to avoid deep vein thrombosis

We are now in the height of summer where there will inevitably be an increase in the amount of people travelling to far off, sunny destinations. Most people have heard of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), but are surprised to learn that being inactive on long haul flights can actually encourage the development on this undesirable condition.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is the result of blood clotting whilst it is still inside the blood vessel. In many cases, painful swelling in the leg will be experienced as a ‘warning sign’ however, this is not always the case and in some instances, no obvious symptoms will be presented.
Despite the fact that many people are at risk from DVT, there is still much uncertainty as to how to prevent DVT from occurring, and a general unawareness of the importance of getting this uncomfortable condition treated should it occur.

To provide more clarity on the topic, here internationally renowned venous specialist, Professor Mark Whiteley of The Whiteley Clinic, shares his expert advice on the simple things that we can all do to significantly reduce the chances of a clot developing, particularly over the summer months:

"Perhaps one of the most well-known causes of DVT is inactivity when on a long haul flight, and this is something which we should all be aware of when jetting off on an exotic break. By reducing the activity in our legs, our blood flow becomes very sluggish in the deep veins - therefore putting us at a higher risk of a clot forming.
I always advise people to keep as active as possible when flying and ensure that you get up for a walk up and down the cabin aisle at least once per hour. I would also advise wearing properly fitted flight stockings. These speed up the flow of blood in the veins and therefore reduce the risks of the blood clotting.”

"When we fail to drink enough water, the composition of our blood changes and becomes more concentrated. When you are on a long flight, it is imperative to keep yourself fully hydrated as concentrated blood, coupled with a long period of inactivity will heighten the risk of a clot forming. It is also important to remember this whilst on holiday, in preparation for the return flight as our water consumption needs to significantly increase when in a hotter climate. People also tend to drink more alcohol when on a summer break which will not only dehydrate you, but will also act as a diuretic meaning that even more fluid is passed out in your urine. To counteract this, make sure that you balance your alcohol consumption with water to keep hydrated."

"The walls of our blood vessels are lined with a special sort of cell which stops any normal blood from clotting on it. Unfortunately, smoking can seriously damage these cells, therefore enabling the blood to clot and increasing the risk of DVT. In order to reduce this risk, I would recommend that you try and give up smoking at least three months before you are scheduled to embark on a long haul flight."

"For those who are worried that they are at risk of developing DVT, I would advise wearing Isobar Compression Socks, which are available from select hospitals and venous clinics across the UK - such as The Whiteley Clinic. These custom-made stockings will help to speed up the flow of blood in the veins, and therefore reduce the risk of the blood clotting and DVT.
Isobar’s patented technology takes a 3D scan of the patient’s leg (or arm) to capture 260,000 different data points, from which a personalised garment is produced. These garments deliver the right pressure for a person’s medical, travel or training needs and, as the garments fit each individual limb perfectly, they are more comfortable and effective.”

"If you are ever uncertain as to whether or not you are suffering from DVT, it is of vital importance that you go and see a venous specialist at the earliest opportunity so that they can carry out a duplex ultrasound scan and advise on treatment based on the results. A proper DVT scan will include all veins from ankle to groin, including the pelvic veins.
If a DVT is identified and treated immediately, in the majority of cases the clot is dissolved and the vein will return to normal. However, in very severe cases the clot can be removed under x-ray control. In the most extreme cases a DVT can cause an extension of thrombus – which can travel to the heart and lungs causing a condition called Pulmonary Embolus (PE). This is very serious and can even be fatal.
However most in most patients the DVT stays in the leg and does not move. However, if the diagnosis is delayed and treatment not started, the clot can cause scar tissue in the wall, damaging the deep veins permanently. This can result in swollen, discoloured and painful legs, and sometime leg ulcers, a condition called post thrombotic syndrome (PTS).”

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Last revised: 10 August 2017
Next review: 10 August 2020