Prevent DVT, A Traveller’s Worst Nightmare
With the increase in frequency and length of air travel, Deep Vein Thrombosis has become a common problem.
Veins are blood vessels that carry impure blood to the lungs via the right side of the heart to collect oxygen; those from the legs have to travel against gravity to complete this journey. This process is helped by the action of muscles contracting that ‘squeeze’ the blood upwards.
Prolonged stagnation , such as when we sit in the aeroplane seat for a long time , results in blood remaining stationary in the lower limbs causing a clot to develop. If this clot gets dislodged, it travels up and chocks the blood supply to the lung resulting in a life threatening condition known as Pulmonary Embolism. Those on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or Oral Contraceptives have a higher risk of developing clots in the legs as do people who are obese, who smoke or suffer from heart failure and cancer.
Approximately one in 4000 air travellers develop DVT, a smaller number progress to develop the dreaded Pulmonary Embolism. Earliest symptoms are swelling of the feet, especially around the ankles and pain in the calf muscles. If after prolonged travel of more than four hours, one develops these symptoms, DVT must be ruled out. Pulmonary embolism or progressive breathlessness can manifest suddenly and must be dealt with immediately.
Avoiding DVT is simple. The simplest and the most important step is to avoid sitting in one position for prolonged periods. Walk around once every hour and often move your legs and feet to improve blood circulation. It is for this reason that DVT is never seen in children – they are forever active and can never be seen sitting for a long time in the same position. Dehydration increases the risk of clots to form. Drink plenty of fluids; reduce coffee and alcohol that increase dehydration. Compression stockings have been shown to prevent stagnation. These can be bought over the counter. (Ordinary stockings have an elastic band only at the top and may worsen stagnation). Consult your doctor if there are any medical conditions that may predispose you to DVT.