How to Avoid Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) – Travel Health Advice

Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) is relatively rare, but nevertheless it is a potentially life-threatening condition which is usually associated with those who are bedridden or those who have had significant surgery. The disease can be painless and the affected individual may have no knowledge of the seriousness of their situation before the clot moves towards the heart and lungs.

Deep Venous Thrombosis, in association with long haul travel, has recently been highlighted through publicity in the media and so travellers are becoming increasingly aware of the potential risks. Even though the numbers involved are small when compared to the total number travelling, venous blood clots are believed to kill more than 100 air passengers a year worldwide. Even then, it is thought that this figure may be a gross underestimation.  Many patients may develop the condition some weeks following their return home and so not associate it with their recent travel.

Causes

Deep Venous Thrombosis results when small blood clots form in the legs during four or more hours confined in a tight seat such as the economy class sections of most aircraft. When the plane lands, the clots normally dissolve. However, larger clots may not and they may then break loose, sometimes days or weeks later. The venous circulation carries these blood clots towards the heart and lungs and this can cause serious illness or even lead to sudden death in those affected.

Symptoms

An individual who develops venous clots in their legs may experience no signs whatsoever of this potentially life threatening condition. Others may notice some inflammation or tenderness in their calf muscles. Swelling of the ankles is very common on long-haul flights. It is often associated with decreased blood flow and is quite normal. However, it may also be an early sign of blood clots developing in the legs.

Preventing Deep Venous Thrombosis

The risk of Deep Venous Thrombosis can be minimised by ensuring that, where possible, the specific risk factors mentioned above are reduced. Breaking the long-haul flight into shorter sections (eg stopping off in SE Asia on the way to Australia) will lessen the risks considerably. It would be necessary to discontinue either the contraceptive pill or cease smoking for at least one to two months before flying to significantly lessen the risks!

Those with varicose veins can improve their situation by applying a specialised stocking which exerts maximum pressure at the ankle level and then progressively decreases the pressure toward the top of the leg. This compresses the leg veins and increases blood flow out of the leg, thus helping to prevent clot formation. For the elderly person, pregnant women and overweight travellers this is a simple method of lowering their risk from DVT. Stockings should be applied before the flight commences.

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